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Terroir 2015’s Culinary Mission to St. John’s: An Update

Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, aka the site that federal Fisheries and Oceans minister John Crosbie announce the cod moratorium in 1992

It’s largely accepted that a dish – and arguably the chef creating it – is only as good as its ingredients.

In a package looking at the cod stock and Newfoundland’s fishing industry in this week’s Globe & Mail (hinted in last week’s post) both writer Sasha Chapman and I wrote about things we learned during our visit to the province last month for Terroir Symposium‘s Culinary Mission to St. John’s.

Petty Harbour in May 2015

Petty Harbour in May 2015

Sasha’s piece is fantastic. Exploring the challenges facing fishermen who had for generations relied on the cod stocks, and the drastic changes the 1992 moratorium has had on Newfoundlanders. (Do read it. Linked below.)

My write up explores the issue Canadian chefs have raised on direct sourcing seafood.

You see, under existing regulations, many Canadians are prohibited from obtaining seafood directly from fish harvesters. That’s to say that unless you live in BC, you can’t buy a fresh caught halibut or lobster from the local fisherman at the harbour. It’s disconcerting to know that this is also the case for provinces with a rich fishing culture, such as Newfoundland.

I had the chance within the short turn around time to speak with some great people who shed more insight into the topic (which helped me piece together the write up).

Normand Laprise at Terroir 2013

Normand Laprise at Terroir 2013

Normand Laprise of Montreal’s Toqué! told me that his interest is in being able to get the freshest possible product:

It’s not like a bottle of wine where you can buy it and let it sit. The problem with fish is that its quality and freshness starts to countdown the moment you pull it out of the water. The reason we want to work directly with the fishermen is not to save money; it’s to save this time. The best way is for me is to work directly with the sources.

I also spoke with Tom Dooley, Director of Sustainable Fisheries and Oceans Policy from the Department of Newfoundland and Labrador, who acknowledged the concerns raised, noting that while “direct from fisherman isn’t currently allowed under the policy, it’s a topic that’s been raised with the department over the last six months and is being looked at by the provincial government.” So at least there might be much needed updates to the policy in the future.

I also appreciated the comments left on the piece, most of them also sympathetic to the situation, one even offering a viable solution: The problem is catch reporting or misreporting, which contributed to the stock crash. It’s not possible to know how much of a quota has been caught if the catch is not reported. Fisheries has set up monitoring to record landings and if chefs want to buy directly then they have to be part of it, which shouldn’t be hard.

The latter is the sticky spot. In my research, that was exactly an issue with the Eastern fisheries (vs. Western), their records were pretty poor and attention was required in their records of bycatch (PDF of Picco’s study: Mind the Gap: What we don’t know about bycatch in Canadian fisheries).

A northern alliance? An old map that both Canadian chefs and Scandinavian chefs took great interest in at the Marine Institute.

An old map that both Canadian chefs and Scandinavian chefs took great interest in at the Marine Institute.

A northern alliance? An old map that both Canadian chefs and Scandinavian chefs took great interest in at the Marine Institute.

A northern alliance? Chefs for Ocean’s Ned Bell with Anders Selmer of Copenhagen’s Fiskebar in a potentially historic moment.

While not changing status quo doesn’t make any sense (nor cents), Dan Donovan of Toronto’s Hooked was kind enough to share with me the reasons why this seemingly simple request might not be a feasible course of action.

It really all comes down to economics.

As explored in the article, part of the reason why Canadian consumers – chefs and the public alike – don’t see alternative catch like shrimp or snow crabs, is because bigger markets with greater purchasing power are snatching up our pristine seafood. One cannot blame a struggling industry for catering to the demands of a larger buyer, vs. a smaller request, with less market value. Unless we see more smaller fish harvesting operations willing to work for smaller, niche clientele (something I’d imagine a
distributor/operation like how John Bil through Honest Weight works), it might be a while still before we see movement towards something as simple as being able to purchase fish directly from the boat. (Even though this is permissible in BC. That’s the thing, the Canadian government allows for it, but it’s the individual provinces that have their own regulations).

There’s also the problem concerning inefficient distribution channels. Again, Sasha’s article outlines what they are.

Hopefully, feasible solutions are on the horizon. Until then, speak up on what you support. Ask your fishmonger for lesser valued species. The market caters to the demands of consumers. Above all, eat more responsibly, lower in the chain, and less volume overall.

Terroir St. John's 2015 (6)Sasha Chapman’s report about the rebounding cod stocks, and the next steps taken to create a sustainable, profitable industry for the Globe & Mail (June 2015): Now what?

My story in the Globe & Mail (June 2015): Canadian Chefs want industry to loosen seafood regulations

Video: Roderick Sloan speaks on his observations of what could improve seafood practices


About Renée Suen

Renée Suen is a food loving freelance writer and photographer based in Toronto. Her insatiable appetite, curiosity and camera are often found travelling around the world in search of memorable tastes and the stories behind the plate. In another life, she is a PhD candidate in Cardiovascular Sciences.


2 thoughts on “Terroir 2015’s Culinary Mission to St. John’s: An Update

  1. Ocean expert Roderick Sloan’s contribution to the conversation. Here, he talks about the situation in Newfoundland, the new snow crab industry, but shares frustrations on how he can’t make direct purchases of the fresh catch from the fishers themselves. His article also outlines the benefits to the eaters, revenues generated by increased tourism, and other added benefits if the regulations weren’t so strict. Read here:


    Posted by Renée Suen | September 9, 2015, 2:38 PM

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