Posts Tagged ‘local fish’

Atlantic Pollock – Pollachius virens – and a great winter recipe.

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Alaska Pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) and Atlantic Pollock (Pollachius virens) are two different species.  To compare them is a good exercise in understanding the extremes of the fishing industry.

Alaska Pollock from the northern Pacific, is one of the world’s leading industrialized fisheries with over 3 million tons landed a year.  The poster child for inexpensive, super-plain white fish, Alaska pollock is the fish in almost all commercial fish stick products; it is the fish in “fake fish,” that plastic-feeling, white and pink fish “salad” product you can buy at your grocery store, usually in a section with the smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheels.  If you don’t understand yet how big Alaska pollock is in the world, know that it is the fish in a McDonald’s fillet o’ fish sandwich.  

Trawled with enormous mid-water nets by large corporate fleets, Alaska pollock fills the world’s frozen fish cases with breaded rectangles of cheap protein.   This is the kind of fishing that undermines wild ecosystems and human communities.

Diversity and scale are the answers to much of the over-doing of anything in the world’s economy, be it industrial farming or industrial fishing.  To grow one millions of acres of one crop or fish for millions of tons of one fish exploits ecologies and destroys communities.  Industrialized farming exhausts soil, eliminates hedgerows and the bird life therein, makes seed stores, farm stores, even whole downtowns obsolete.

Industrialized fishing, fishing for millions of pounds of fish stick filler, has the same consequences.  Only the large, corporate fleets can afford this kind of fishing, and these fleets land, process and distribute their fish often on and from their own floating processing factories.  They have no need for the shore-side businesses that once supported the local fishing fleets – the lumpers who unload the catches on the dock, the fish cutters, the businesses that supply the boats with gas, food, and gear, all of which were once integral parts of fishing communities, like the farm stores in agricultural communities.  These businesses offered good, middle class wages which allowed people to own homes in the community and educate their children.  The economics of small farming and fishing built a web of connections that kept communities vital.  With the local fishing fleet gone, there is no need for any of those shore side businesses.  Harbor buildings are vacant, until the whale-watching businesses and tourist-driven agencies move in offering seasonal jobs but no long term sustainability.  

Atlantic pollock is a ground fish, and a common substitute for cod.  Actually a member of the cod family, Atlantic pollock is landed all year round in the Gulf of Maine.  The fish are landed anywhere from 6-12 pounds, providing thick, meaty fillets of a sweet, mild fish.  The raw meat is slightly gray compared to cod, but cooks to a creamy white color, and a thick, beautiful flake.  A sweet, white fish with generous, cooking-resilient fillets, Atlantic pollock are fish any cook – and chefs – can love.

Landed abundantly but not industrially on New England fishing boats, Atlantic pollock are also a fish that a fishing village can love.  These are fish landed on small boats that keep cities like Portland, Maine looking like a fishing town.  They are fish that, if given a reasonable price, an independent fisherman can make a relatively good living selling  And they are an excellent – some say preferred – alternative to haddock and cod, fish that deserve some relief from our appetites.  This is where diversity and scale come in:  if fishermen landed a little cod, a little haddock, and a bit more pollock, but not enough to injure stocks, the prices for all the species they catch would be good, and a fisherman could make a living.  He would pull into the dock, unload, and resupply his boat from the services there on the shore.  Economic connections would be made, and built.  

Here is an unusual, simple, and delicious recipe for New England pollock from Chef Annie Copps. This dish is so sweet, so white, so comforting, it doesn’t taste like a fish dish at all.  Fish dishes are rarely considered wintery comfort food, but this recipe is exactly that.

Baked in parchment, “en papillote,”  pollock retains all its moist, firm character.  Here’s the surprise:  The fish’s light, sweet flavor snuggles right up to the natural sugars in parsnips, turnips, and celeriac.  This recipe calls for a puree of parsnips and potatoes that have simmered in milk, but you could easily replace the parsnips with turnips or celeriac.  For a study in winter white, serve the fish directly on top of the puree.  It may not photograph well, but it is oh so comforting February dining, right from local waters.

Pollock en papillote with Mashed Parsnips and Potatoes


4 pieces of pollock, 1/2 pound each

salt and pepper

olive oil for drizzling

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces

about 2 cups whole milk

kosher or sea salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

a few scrapes of nutmeg

chopped fresh parsley


  1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2.   Place the potatoes and parsnips in a medium pot.  Cover with milk.  (If there is not enough liquid to cover finish with water.  Liquid should JUST cover the vegetables.  Add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, 15 – 20 minutes.
  3.   Meanwhile, lay out 4 sheets of parchment, about 16″ x 20″.  Fold the parchment in half.  Basically you want to make a heart shape as you did in elementary school, by tracing just one side of the heart shape on the paper, and then cutting along that line.  Open the parchment and you have a heart, just the right shape for each pollock fillet.  Lay the each fillet on one side of each “heart.”  Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  Fold the other half of the heart over the fish, and crimp together all the edges, basically to seal each package.
  4.   Bake f0r 15 minutes.
  5.   Meanwhile, mash the potatoes and parsnips.  Add a few scraps of nutmeg and adjust seasoning.
  6.   To serve, open parchment gently, allowing steam to release.  Lay a serving of potatoes and parchment on each plate.  Serve the steaming fish beside it, drizzled with more olive oil, or lay it on top of the puree.  Serve with chopped parsley.



It Might Take A Fish To Save A Village.

Friday, January 20th, 2017

fish holder


We all know the charms of a fishing village:  the shoreside industries that make a stroll along a harbor compelling, the boats bulging with gear tied up to the pier, nets laid out to dry.  That, and the small family fishing boat, may soon be another casualty of corporate driven fishing policies.  Fishing culture – the vision of a boat chugging into port beneath a cloud of squawking seagulls, the chapel steeple pointing from the town rooftops to the skies, signaling home to the returning vessel – all this will soon be nothing more than photos in a heritage center if more effort is not made to preserve the small family boat and the rich culture that follows, just like those seagulls.

In the Good Food movement of the last thirty years we have learned that our soil, our land, our air, and our food is all healthier when farming is done in a small, manageable scale.  Farm communities are thus healthier, diverse, more interesting places, not simply animal factories or thousands of acres of corn.  The same is true of fishing: fishing on a scale that is human, supporting the small family fishing boat and its community, will make a healthier ocean, and consequently preserve the economies of fishing communities.

The United States fisheries are regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a division of the Department of Commerce.  The balance of commerce and healthy oceans has seemed like a tug-of-war since the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  An amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act –  the Sustainable Fisheries Act  – was added in 1996, strengthening the mandate to protect U.S. fisheries.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act created the 200 mile limit, declaring that no foreign boats were allowed within 200 miles of U.S. coastline. The Sustainable Fisheries Act’s was enacted “with the fundamental goals of preventing overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks, protecting essential fish habitat, minimizing bycatch, enhanced research and improved monitoring.” (From the NOAA website.)

The “days at sea” program, enacted in the mid-1990’s, was one part of many actions born from NOAA’s new sustainability mandate.  Under “days at sea,” New England groundfish boats, for example, were appointed a specific number of “days at sea” to go fishing.

In 2010, the days at sea program was replaced in the New England groundfishery (earlier in most other U.S. fisheries) under Amendment 16 to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, by the Individual Transferable Quota System – now called “Catch Shares.”

Catch Shares were a relatively new market-based strategy pushed since the mid-80s primarily by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a few other big environmental groups.  Catch Shares would be – mythically – where sustainability and commerce got along.  The EDF and a few other environmental groups supported this big business agenda of deregulation, consolidation, and privatization.  Starting in New Zealand’s orange roughy fishery in 1986, then the Mid-Atlantic surf clam or ocean quahog fishery, and then Alaska halibut and sablefish fisheries, and now being pushed on most  U.S. fisheries, Catch Shares began to facilitate the big business take-over of the world’s fishing, not just America’s.

Some environmental groups, like the Environmental Defense Fund, believe only those with major investments – can be stewards of the ocean.   Catch Share have thus been the place where commerce and sustainability are being touted as married.  But here’s a fact to consider: some of these groups – like EDF – have received funding from the Walton family, and Koch Brothers and their various tentacles to support their Catch Shares agenda.

Catch Share have become a means by which fishing has become consolidated, privatized, and industrialized.  Many small and medium sized boats, assigned too small a quota to make a living, sold or leased their quota to the larger boats who could afford to buy it up.  The large corporate fleets are the ones left fishing.

As opposed to the industrialization of agriculture under President Nixon, this effort has been done under the cloak of “sustainability.”  It has been supported by certain environmental groups, groups that don’t equate small family boats to ecological sustainability.

We do.  The family farm movement taught us that although not perfect, the greatest potential in achieving our ecological sustainability AND food access goals is to support scale-appropriate independent family operations.

Even the term “fishing community” has been degraded by fishing policy: after the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act, in an effort to measure policy impacts on fishing communities, not just fishermen, NOAA attempted to define the term “fishing community.”  Under pressure from the northwest corporate-owned factory fleet led by the American Factory Trawlers Association (later renamed At Sea Processors Association), NOAA included in that definition “fishing vessels that process fish far from their homeports.”  An offshore factory fishing boat, therefore, is just as much a “fishing community,” and enjoys the same government considerations, as Stonington, Maine.

Just as we re-learned to accept whatever our local farmers were growing, picking up from our CSA’s or shopping at a farmers’ market, we must re-learn how to shop for local fish.  Fish markets today buy fish from all around the world pushed onto consumers by the globalized seafood companies.  There is almost no such thing as a “local catch.”  As a result, consumers have lost touch with the realities of the ocean’s ecosystems and its “seasons.” Customers are upset if there is no salmon, tuna, and swordfish in the case, no matter where they live, regardless of what fish is swimming in waters nearby.

We must support the small boats fishing out of a harbor, if only to protect that fishing community.  Otherwise all harbors zoned for maritime use will be rezoned for development – hotels, condominiums, and shopping – as fishing moves to offshore corporate trawlers.

Find a Community Supported Fishery, based on the same model as Community Supported Agriculture, in your community.  CSFs are now the best, most reliable way to source truly local seafood that will taste far fresher and sweeter, with less overall ecological impact than anything that flew around the world to get to you,  and you will be preserving the vision of that boat chugging into port trailed by a cloud of squawking seagulls.

Preserving the small family fishing boat may save the ocean’s health, for the exact same reasons saving the small family farm  – preventing farming from being entirely industrialized  – helps conserve the environment.

The fishing village stays just that, a fishing town that always knows its place in the ocean’s ecosystems.

Support local fishing boats, end of story.  Buy local fish, whatever it is.

Summer Means Whiting in Ipswich Bay

Thursday, July 21st, 2016



Many people reading this blog will say whiting is old news. And it is; the whiting fishery in Gloucester was once so important that many families made a living fishing nothing but Gulf of Maine shrimp in the winter and whiting in the summer. They didn’t even bother with ground fish; shrimp and whiting provided a comfortable enough living for a fisherman’s family. Gloucester whiting went directly to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City, where vendors from New York and Philadelphia purchased almost all of it. Jewish cultures smoke it and serve it with bagels; the Spanish split it, grill it, and drizzle it with olive oil. In Sicily whiting is considered a definitive delicacy and sells for many euros a pound.

I spoke to Gloucester fisherman Al Cottone, Executive Director Gloucester Fisheries Commission, at the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives offices after his fourth day fishing for whiting. A strapping, dark-haired 50 years old, Cottone confessed he was beat. He’s not used to the unrelenting action fishing for whiting demands anymore.
Cottone has been fishing since he was 17, and has never had any other kind of work. But his ground fish quota this year, allocated by NOAA, was pared down to almost nothing: Cottone is allowed to catch 1,800 pounds of cod, 2,800 pounds of dabs, 3,000 pounds of grey sole, and 2,400 pounds of yellow tail flounder for the year. He has been ground fishing two times since the season began, when the allocations were announced in early March. In just two “tows,” meaning two drops of the net – that means ground fishing for four hours in total – he landed 700 pounds of grey sole, 600 pounds of dabs, and 300 pounds of yellow tail. In four hours of fishing he landed 1/4 of his quota for the year.

This means two things: Cottone cannot catch enough fish to make a living, unless he begins leasing quota from other fishermen, which has added costs. (Cottone says that many fishermen are so fed up, or they are just leasing their allocated quota to the few fishermen left, and finding other work.) It also means Cottone is out of shape; he just hasn’t had enough fishing practice recently.
But Cottone loves fishing for whiting.

“I fell in love with it immediately. Fishing for whiting is constant work; it’s constant action. You’re moving constantly, fishing the whole time. There’s no time to eat, no time to do anything, and you fish everyday.”

Ground fishing is long tows that take a couple of hours each. Fishing for whiting means short tows that take an hour at most. As soon as the catch is landed on the deck the other partner begins sorting the catch, while the net goes down again. Whiting fishing requires two men, one to run the boat and tows, the other to sort the catch. Most ground fishing these days is done solo, a particularly dangerous situation.
Cottone fished for whiting on the FV Razzo with Captain Joe Randazzo for four days. They did three tows, and landed 6,000 pounds the first day, 7,500 the second, and 6,000 the third, Thursday, the last day, rough seas limited the catch to 4,500 pounds. NOAA allows 7,500 pounds of whiting per day per boat. Ipswich Bay, where Cottone was fishing, is teaming with whiting.

The whiting first show up in the middle of June. Cottone says he doesn’t know where they come from. When they disappear in October, they are gone – just gone – until the following June.

“When I started fishing,” Cottone said, “we would only fish for ground fish in the spring. We fished whiting from June to November, and Gulf of Maine shrimp all winter. Now the shrimp fishery is gone.”

And whiting in Gloucester is news again. When the Fulton Fish Market in New York closed down in its old site, the Gloucester whiting market lost its market, and the fishery faded away. Now, with the ground fish quota so spare, and the whiting fishery so healthy, fishermen are pairing up to go for whiting again.
But it’s a grind, Cottone reminds. And most of the fishermen left, the ones who just can’t stop fishing, are not young. With all the ground fish conflicts and closures of the last twenty years, a generation has been lost. John Sanfilippo, 70, and his brother-in-law Joe Orlando, 62, are the ones out there in Ipswich Bay beside the “Razzo,” dropping nets and sorting fish on the FV San Pio.

Captain Joe Orlando

John Sanfilippo on boat


“I don’t know how they do it,” Cottone says.


Whiting are sorted in three sizes, small, large and king, the last of which are usually more valuable.

sorting the catch

king whiting


Maybe it is the light texture and super-mild flavor, but Italians consider whiting health food. One Gloucester fisherman’s wife even believed it should be sold commercially as baby food. In the past month I have poached it in an infused olive oil, and served it over crispy paella. I have fried it so the skin is very crispy and served it with a fermented sofrito sauce. I have dusted it in flour, fried it, and served it with the cool, spicy Portuguese molho vilhao sauce – lots of diced raw onion, chilis and white vinegar. I have dipped it in vodka, rolled it in cornstarch and flour, and fried it to super-crispy. I served that with a black garlic, hoisin style sauce. I also prepared a winning recipe for whiting from a seafood throw down last season, Common Crow chefs’ recipe for whiting in lettuce cups with rice noodles and peanut sauce.

Danielle Glantz, from Pasta via Corta, the new cheese and pasta shop in Gloucester, gave me a recipe for steaming it in grape leaves, and serving the whiting with a lemon and olive-cured black olive salsa. Angela Sanfilippo would say that fresh whiting is so delicate and delicious that doing the least to it is the best way: dust small whiting lightly in flour and fry them or steam them and dress with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Maybe garlic.  Versatility, thy name is “whiting.”

simple fried whiting

crispy fried whiting

But here’s the thing. Currently, New York is the only market receiving whiting. I wrote this blog in the first week of July. This week, July 11th, Joe Orlando was heading out fishing and the New York market called him to say, “don’t go.” The whiting market was flooded, and the price was down to pennies. So the boats returned to the dock, while people in Gloucester who would love this fresh, seasonal catch, can’t get it. These are the complex vagaries of the fishing industry today.

But I am going to leave you with the Rung McLean’s recipe for Thai Fish Cups.  Chefs Rung McClean and Mark Delaney of the Common Crow Natural Food Market, Gloucester, MA, took home the seafood throw down win with this ravishing Thai inspired dish: steamed delicate whiting, a nest of rice noodles, nestle into a burst of Boston lettuce leaves. A sweet-hot Thai chili-peanut dressing is spooned over the fish, and a cool watermelon/fennel salad, dressed in a purple-basil vinegar dressing, is spooned beside.

McClean wrapped the whole whiting in foil, and steamed it while she prepped the sauce, noodles, and greens. Any small to medium whole white fish could be used the same way, like pollock, haddock, hake or even halibut.  This is a light, fresh recipe that uses a lot of local produce, and it includes all the flavors no one can refuse.  As watermelon comes into the markets, the salad alone is great recipe to have on hand.


Thai Whiting Cups

Thai Fish Cups
prepared at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market Seafood Throwdown, August, 2015
Serves 6

For the Fish:
2 whole king whiting, or 3-4 pounds other whole fish or 2-3 pounds fillets (If you can find medium-sized whole fish that’s great.  But you can steam fillets in the foil also.)
olive oil for rubbing
salt and pepper
6 fennel fronds

For the sauce:
6 Thai chilies, seeds and ribs removed, diced small
2 red bell peppers diced small
5 cloves of garlic crushed, and made into a paste
11/2 cups sugar
11/2 cups rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup crushed peanuts

For the salad:
2 tablespoons purple basil vinegar (or herb vinegar of your choice)
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 large fennel bulb thinly sliced
1 seedless watermelon either red or yellow diced small
1 lb. arugula

1/2 pound white rice noodles or brown rice vermicelli

1 fluffy head Boston Lettuce
1 bunch Thai Basil
1 bunch cilantro
For the fish:
1. Rinse and scale the whole whiting. Lightly score both sides. Rub both sides and cavity with olive oil, salt and pepper. In the cavity place fennel fronds. Loosely wrap fish in tin foil, almost tent-like, so the fish will steam inside the foil (- much like fish cooked in parchment paper en papillote style). Place foil package over a medium-high grill or place in a 400 degree oven. Roast for 20 minutes, or peek, opening up the foil, and checking to see that the meat is cooked through completely. If done, open foil package to stop the steaming, and allow the fish to cool slightly. When ready to serve, take forks and pull away large chunks of fish, discarding the skin. Set 2-3 large chunks (about 1/4 pound in total) upon the lettuce leaves, and continue with the plate.

For the sauce:
1. In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and reserve.

For the salad:
1. Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a glass measuring cup. Toss fennel, watermelon and arugula together in a large bowl, and coat lightly with vinaigrette.

For the Noodles:
Prepare as directed on package. Rinse, and set aside.

1 bunch Thai Basil
1 bunch cilantro

To Assemble the Dish:
1. Place a large Boston lettuce leaf or two on each plate. Set on that a portion of cooked rice noodles, a portion of steamed fish, draping all in the sauce. Place a portion of the watermelon/fennel/arugula salad beside the greens, and garnish with a few basil and cilantro leaves and a pinch more of the crushed peanuts.