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June 05, 2012

June Fish of the Month: MSC-certified Pacific Halibut

Your seafood choices can have a big impact on the health of our oceans and lakes – so make sure they’re positive ones! Every month, Shedd’s Right Bite team highlights a sustainable seafood option that’s both good for you and our planet. The Fish of the Month for June is Pacific halibut.

As the sustainable seafood coordinator at Shedd, I teach hundreds of aspiring culinary students annually about making environmentally-friendly seafood choices, using Shedd’s "best choice" list. When I ask students to describe a fisherman or fisherwoman, the response usually includes a caricatured depiction of a rickety boat, yellow galoshes and “one old man with a pipe.” After the laughter subsides, I share with students that today’s global fishing industry bears no resemblance to the romantic representation in our minds or the media.

As commercial fishing became industrialized in the 19th and 20th centuries, fishing boats were transformed from human-powered to steam-powered and ultimately to oil-powered. Large ships were equipped to travel longer distances without returning to shore, allowing the industry to haul in unprecedented catch levels. In the 1920s, Clarence Birdseye’s fast-freezing invention allowed boats to freeze fish onboard, which gave consumers more access to seafood without the danger of spoilage. I'm sure every 4th-grader would love to personally thank Mr. Birdseye personally for his or her frozen fish sticks (wink, wink).

The dramatic transformations over the last 200 years have greatly contributed to overfishing. Yet industries and governments have begun to respond to sustainability challenges, recognizing that the ecological and economic health of our waters is at stake. In 2012, all coastal U.S. fisheries have management plans set in place to reduce overfishing by leaving enough fish, or biomass, in the water to sustain for the next year. June’s Fish of the Month, Pacific halibut, is a firm, white-fleshed fish that has been leading in fishery management methods since the 1940s.

The Pacific halibut fishery is jointly managed by the U.S. and Canadian governments through the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Every year the scientific and management communities set a total allowable catch number and distribute an individual quota to fishing boats. Even better, in Alaska, no halibut fishing boat is allowed to take more than 0.5 percent of the catch every year, ensuring every fishing boat gets its fair share. If you love halibut in the summertime, try Shedd’s sustainable seafood recipe for pan-seared Pacific halibut with sweet corn gazpacho.

Pan-Seared Pacific Halibut with Sweet Corn Gazpacho
Serves 4

2 ears of sweet corn, husked
1 lb. tomatoes, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup pieces of heavy bread
4 5-ounce Pacific halibut fillets
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook corn ears in boiling water for 5 minutes or until tender. Remove and let cool.
2. Remove kernels from cobs; reserve a few tablespoons of whole kernels for garnish.
3. Add remaining kernels into blender with tomatoes and onion; blend until smooth.
4. Slowly add the vinegar, 1/3 cup olive oil and lemon; blend until well mixed.
5. In separate bowl, add ½ cup of water and bread. Squeeze water from bread and add it to blender. Season with salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Chill for 45 minutes.
6. For fish, add remaining oil to pan and heat to medium-high heat.
7. Season the fish with salt and pepper
8. Add fish and cook on each side for 3 minutes each, or until fish flakes with fork
9. Spoon ¼ cup of gazpacho into bowl and place warm fish on top. Garnish with kernels. 

Posted by Brook Havlik, conservation
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