Sunday, June 17, 2018
Dining

Seafood wars ahead? Reflecting on farm-raised fish on National Caviar Day

BRADENTON BEACH — Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, it must be Robin Leach's favorite holiday. Today is National Caviar Day.

In anticipation, last week the Beach House on Bradenton Beach hosted a lecture and tasting of Black Opal caviar, the much-anticipated farm-raised black sturgeon caviar developed at Mote Marine Laboratories. More than $1 million worth of high-quality black caviar, produced from farm-raised Siberian sturgeon, debuted in November and has been widely embraced by chefs and retailers, compared favorably to domestic products like Sterling and other big players from California.

Buttery, rich, nutty, earthy, salty, fishy, with a satisfying pop and a pearly black opacity, it's good stuff — the definition of that elusive savory fifth flavor called umami. (As Beach House owner Ed Chiles said of it enthusiastically: "It's umami and u-daddy.")

But this is more than a story about fancy black fish roe.

What Healthy Earth, a sustainable food company in Sarasota, and Mote are doing through a public-private partnership affects all of us, not just the 1 percent.

About 90 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and about half of this is wild-caught. The other half is aquaculture, the term used for fish farming and stocking sea creatures in wild bodies of water. Asia dominates global aquaculture production, China alone accounting for 62 percent of global production.

Why does this matter? There is a looming specter, the specter of an enormous and growing Chinese middle class. Here's what happens when folks do better financially: They eat better, and specifically they eat more animal protein. China has historically been a net seafood exporter. What's going to happen when domestic demand skyrockets?

Their seafood, wild and farmed, stays in China, spoken for.

We need farm-raised fish in this country, and we need them pronto.

Florida's Gulf Coast is the only place in America bordered by three national estuaries, supporting rich and diverse wildlife. Also, it is home to a thriving cluster of marine sciences research facilities and businesses. Those businesses are finding higher purposes by solving real-world problems.

"Aquaculture creates leadership, jobs and better food," said Healthy Earth partner Paul Brooke. "There's no reason we couldn't establish the Silicon Valley of aquaculture here."

• • •

Caviar used to mean one thing: the Caspian Sea, the world's largest saltwater lake. Beluga, osetra and sevruga were flown around the world to service fancy-pants parties, gourmands dabbing it onto tiny blini with mother-of-pearl spoons. The Caspian trade was controlled by its border countries, the Soviet Union and Iran, but after the dissolution of the Soviet Union it became the Wild West. The Caspian Sea was woefully overfished, with species like the beluga becoming critically endangered. In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the importation of beluga.

And thus the world market for fish eggs opened up, and countries like Belarus, Norway and China stepped into the void.

There are problems. Unscrupulous caviar companies may harvest the roe sacks and dump the sturgeon carcasses, uneaten, back into the water. That's not a sustainable model. And experts say Chinese caviar often contains borax as a preservative, a substance banned in this country. Unfortunate, Chiles says, because "China is dumping huge quantities of low-cost caviar on the market like crazy."

Wild fish supplies already have peaked and are in decline. Freshwater, by and large, is spoken for. You can't co-opt rivers to do fish farming. So the trick will be how to develop fish farming technologies that are sustainable and can be scaled up.

Mote and Healthy Earth's agenda is to do just that. Jim Michaels, the sturgeon program manager for Healthy Eart, explains that at their production facility, the water from the retention ponds never leaves the place, the fish waste never making it out into the watershed. It's a closed loop.

Mote is not alone. There are innovative aquaculture programs under way at several universities, including Miami, Cornell, the University of California at Davis and Louisiana State. But, Michaels says, the amount of funding for aquaculture in the United States versus China or Japan is embarrassing.

The future is clear, he says. That 90 percent of seafood that we import? It isn't going to be there much longer.

"We're either going to have to develop the technology or there are going to be seafood wars."

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

     
Comments
From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

I know we have three more months or so of hot-as-dog-breath Tampa Bay summer, but let’s start things off on the right foot with some frozen treats. Ice cream is on my mind after a recent visit to Disney Springs, when I found love in a perfect scoop o...
Published: 06/13/18
Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

LAKE BUENA VISTA Disney Springs has swiftly become a playground or trial balloon for the country?s celebrity chefs. Art Smith, Masaharu Morimoto, Rick Bayless, Guy Fieri, Tony Mantuano, Wolfgang Puck and others are already on board, with names like ...
Published: 06/13/18
A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

Going fishing is like doing your taxes. If it’s something you dive into just once a year you end up relearning the whole thing every time. Jake Whitfield eyed me, no judgment, and decided to cast for me the first time, my little wriggling greenback z...
Published: 06/11/18
Ceviche closing in South Tampa

Ceviche closing in South Tampa

TAMPA – The Ceviche restaurant at 2500 W Azeele St. is closing.Caledon Concepts, which operates Ceviche restaurants in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, said the restaurant’s last day at that location will be June 16."The expiration of the lease for...
Published: 06/08/18
Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

SAVE THE DATE: HARD ROCK B-DAYOn June 14, 1971, the founders opened their own American-style diner in an old Rolls-Royce dealership and called it Hard Rock Cafe. They had a vision to combine music, memorabilia and all-American fare. Here’s a tip: To ...
Published: 06/06/18
Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

GULFPORTWhat do we know about El Chapo, a.k.a. Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán? He ran the Sinaloa Cartel, even from prison, and first appeared on Forbes’ billionaires list in 2009. He’s 5 feet 6. He’s the father of 12 or 13 children. He has a talen...
Published: 06/04/18
Updated: 06/07/18
National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

Believe it or not, Friday is already June 1, which means National Doughnut Day is back with sweet deals.The day was created to celebrate the Salvation Army’s "Doughnut Lassies," who served the treats to American soldiers on the front lines during Wor...
Updated one month ago
A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

TAMPAThe executive chefs all fly into Columbus, Ohio. Before they step into the kitchen, before they sharpen a knife, they sit down and have a meeting, an open dialogue. They examine the whole menu: What’s working? What needs fixing? And then they ge...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant review: Bar Asia will have to raise the bar if it wants to thrive in South Tampa

Restaurant review: Bar Asia will have to raise the bar if it wants to thrive in South Tampa

TAMPALet’s review our star system. One star is fair, two is good, three is great and four is mind-blowing. I’m going to start my review of Bar Asia by saying that one star for service is generous. Here’s why.On my first visit, the bartender was crabb...
Updated one month ago
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughter’s Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Updated one month ago