Fish Bites at the Zoo; An Evening Dedicated to Sustainable Fish

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Tonight marks the 5th Annual Fish Bites; an advocacy event at the Minnesota Zoo that’s aimed at raising awareness for sustainable fish. The event is put on by Fish Smart, which is a program at the Minnesota Zoo that’s dedicated to advocating for sustainable seafood in-conjunction with Twin Cities chefs and restaurants.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with the sustainable seafood coordinator at the zoo to discuss the Fish Smart Program and tonight’s Fish Bites awareness event.

Josh Nelson; Sustainable Seafood Coordinator at the MN Zoo

Please explain who you are and what it is that you do:

My name is Josh Nelson, and I am the sustainable Seafood Coordinator at the Minnesota Zoo. I run the Fish Smart program. I was a line cook for many moons, did some stream restoration work with Trout Unlimited, milked being a stay at home dad for a bit too long, and have now found the perfect job for me.

Can you summarize what Fish Smart is and how it functions as a part of the Minnesota Zoo?

The goal of the Fish Smart program is to raise both the availability and the awareness of sustainable seafood here in Minnesota. One f the ways we are doing that is by using our talented, passionate chefs. The chefs in the Fish Smart program have pledged to not serve Red listed seafood items, and work towards only Green Listed items on their menus. Our guiding seafood ratings are provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, of which the Minnesota Zoo is a proud partner.

Chefs champion the cause of sustainable seafood, and through our outlets at the Zoo we do our best to help get the word out about what they are doing. Our Fish Bites event is just one way; we have sustainable cooking demos at our on-site Farmers’ Market all summer long, we’ve held a demo at Kitchen in the Market’s wonderful space, done the food and Wine Experience, and green fairs. We champion the chefs on Twitter and Facebook whenever possible.

Fish Smart is a program in the Education department at the Minnesota Zoo.

How would you best define “sustainable fish(ing)” to someone new to the concept and why is it important?

We define sustainable seafood as fish, whether it is wild harvested or farmed, that is caught or harvested in a manner that not only sustains current populations, but the fisheries are managed to grow and thrive. When it comes to farmed seafood we look at the feed the fish are grown on, and the type of impact the farm has on the environment or ecosystem. Harvest method or gear is another big variable in wild fish. A component that is just starting to gain some traction is also the human element; are we sustaining community small fleet fisheries? From the deckhand, to the ice guy a the docks, to the fish monger and the delivery man, our American cultural heritage of strong, sustainable, community supported fisheries must be accounted for in our definition of sustainable seafood. 90% of the seafood Americans eat in imported. 90% of the seafood we eat is tuna, shrimp, and salmon. Our state and federal waters are home to many more species of delicious, healthy fish. We just need to diversify our palates, and support domestic fisheries.

For someone that is new to this way of thinking I would share this little bit of data; Dr. Boris Worm did a study on fish populations and the effect commercial fishing has on them,. In a nutshell, he determined that if we keep fishing commercially the way we are, by 2048 all we’ll have left is the forage fish. I hope you like sardines (I do!).

How did the idea for Fish Bites come together?

This is the 5th year of Fish Bites. Up in till last year it was called Fish First. When we launched our Fish Smart program last October we decided to rename it. The event is the culmination of hard work on behalf of Education and Marketing staff, and some inspiration from Sue Zelickson. October is National Seafood Month, so what better way to celebrate that.

Can you explain the how the event works and what people can expect to take away from it?

The event is held in Discovery Bay, which is the Minnesota Zoo’s 218,000 gallon Shark Reef exhibit in Discovery Bay is an incredible undersea world filled with a dizzying array of colorful coral and unusual tropical fish, along with our tidal and estuary interactive pools. Chefs tables are stationed throughout, and each chef is paired with a sustainable wine. Guests walk from station to station, talking with the chefs, and enjoy the amazing surroundings. There will be a small program, hosted by Brian Turner of Cities 97, and a celebration of Sue Zelickson’s strong commitment to the Minnesota Zoo, and the Fish Smart program. Of course there will be live music, a cash bar, and coffee and dessert table.

Hopefully people will come away from the event being inspired to act on behalf of wildlife. Hopefully folks will realize the strong culinary community we have here in the Twin Cities, and their dedication to sustainable and local food.

Do you have any final thoughts or messages that you’d like to get across to our readers?

The Minnesota Zoo belongs to Minnesotans, and we are trying to teach and inspire folks to act on behalf of wildlife. The Minnesota Zoo’s website has a Fish Smart page that has a ton of resources that folks can access to take their purchasing decisions to the next level. Our chef partners are listed there as well.

Twitter @fishsmartguy

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