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Stop Eating Seafood Out of Season

People don't expect amazing tomatoes at the supermarket in January, but they buy wild salmon year-round. Consumers need to get in the rhythm and natural cycle of fish seasons. It’s like letting a field go fallow for a season—let it repopulate, spawn...
Fluke hamachi at Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Company

There is an old wives' tale—or maybe from Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential—that says never to order fish on a Monday because it will never be fresh. But fresh fish is landed every single day. It's a matter of having a personal connection to who you're buying from—which comes in any industry, to be honest, whether it's fish, music, or whatever. It's all about how you cultivate and maintain those relationships.


When we first started our own sustainably sourced seafood market and restaurant, some people (especially in Boston, Massachusetts) thought we were nuts. It's a tough business, it involves long hours, and the operating profit margin is very slim because seafood is an expensive product to begin with. There's a ceiling you hit when you sell on the retail end, especially when you're dealing with super-fresh, high-quality products. Most people are doing this with mass-produced, industrial-scale farmed fish that's coming out of Asia. The margins are certainly better there, but the quality is pretty poor.

RECIPE: Make fresh fluke crudo

You get a shrimp dish at any restaurant and it's eight bucks, and it's like yeah, well, this was produced by slave labor in Thailand. We've got this South Carolina shrimp that costs us a lot of money to get in, but it's wild Carolina white shrimp, and it's beautiful and tastes delicious. We'll put them in ceviche or shrimp cocktails, but mostly we grill them for tacos and sear them on the plancha. They're great—nice and big. They're expensive, and when people come in, they're like, "Whoa, whoa, that's a lot of money for shrimp." But what they're comparing it to is farmed stuff from Asia that's been frozen several times. The labor conditions there are basically people in chains, just so you can get your shrimp for $8.99 a pound. Shrimp has become the number one seafood product that America consumes, along with salmon. It sucks, because we don't carry Atlantic salmon. There's no commercially available Atlantic salmon—it's all farmed, just in the Atlantic Ocean.


A lot of people have the tendency to say, "Oh, I don't eat farmed fish," but there's actually good farming out there. The majority of farming is really bad, but there are some companies that are actually doing great farming. The best farming practices in general are inland closed recirculating systems that aren't in a body of water, like an ocean or a river. There's no chance of escape, there's no chance of disease or genetic modification spreading to other wild populations, and if something goes wrong, they can stop it and deal with it before it spreads to the environment. A big issue with farms is that, for example, a salmon farm is producing a ton of waste in a very concentrated area, so it's causing algae blooms, it's sucking the oxygen out of the water, and everything around it's being killed. But in some places, they're putting mussel farms below and it's great. The mussels are actually filtering it and cleaning out the water, and it's feeding the mussels.

People need to get in the rhythm and natural cycle of fish seasons, and not expect to be able to consume the same fish all year. It's like letting a field go fallow for a season—let it repopulate, spawn, and you just eat something else for a minute.

People have no idea where their seafood comes from; that's the bigger issue. People generally know whether fruits and vegetables are in season. They don't go to buy fresh tomatoes at the supermarket in January, but they will go buy salmon year-round. It takes more feeder fish, per pound, to feed the salmon than the actual yield of salmon off the farm. Why not just not raise salmon and serve those fish? Have some Arctic char instead. It's delicious, it's similar, and when we have wild salmon again next season, eat it then.


People need to get in the rhythm and natural cycle of fish seasons, and not expect to be able to consume the same fish all year. It's like letting a field go fallow for a season—let it repopulate, spawn, and you just eat something else for a minute. If you're just pulling out as much as you can and as fast as you can, you're gonna wipe out entire species. That's why we call ourselves a seasonal, traceable market. True sustainability is hard to achieve if demand outpaces supply and fish reproduction, but we feel great about everything we sell. Nantucket Bay scallops, for example. Those are only available November through March, maybe. They're tiny little scallops from Nantucket Sound—super sweet, buttery, and amazing. We get really excited about those.

Restaurant chefs are often hesitant to put different things on the menu, and we get it. People are coming to a fancy restaurant and they're spending $32 on a seafood dish. You want to make sure it's something familiar—halibut, Chilean sea bass, salmon. You want something people will recognize and buy. We're in a unique place because we're a seafood haven where people come in and want to try the weird stuff we get. Sea robins are these crazy-looking fish that are all over the place. They're spiny, and there's not a lot of meat on them, but they're delicious. They're really sweet, but they're trash fish—fish that normally get thrown overboard. But now there's a whole movement of trash fish dinners, and they're great.

As the foodie movement is developing, people are more interested in trying different kinds of fish, and more unique kinds. Variety is going to make everything better if you're not just catching cod, cod, cod, salmon, salmon. Chefs need to embrace, encourage, and trust their customers a little more. Have faith that they want to try new things and support it, and presenting people with new things with a backstory really helps. Where it came from, who caught it, how it was caught.

Before we worked here, one of us worked at an outdoor market where a stand cooked fresh fish. This kid walked by and was like, "What's that?" (it was a skate wing that was all gnarly-looking). He asked if he could eat it, and I said sure, and he was like, "I'll take all of it!" Damn. The crazier the stuff is, the more people want to eat it. It's almost like bragging rights. But that's perfect for the whole seasonal, sustainability thing.

For us, the whole point of what we're doing is to help further consumer education. We'd like people to know more about seafood, and empower people to buy and cook it. It's important to be cooking the whole fish, to use the whole thing, and to know where your food comes from. We want people to be excited to buy whole fish more often, and not be scared. Take the filets off, use the bones to make stock, and incorporate fish in your diet more often so that it's not a special treat. We really believe that fish is safer, healthier, and easier to cook than chicken, beef, or pork. Seafood has a bad rep for making people sick, but it was probably that lettuce from your grocery store, not the fish, that made you ill.

Adam Geringer-Dunn and Vinny Milburn are the co-owners of Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. in Brooklyn.