Boston Seafood Festival: A Place to Sea and Be Seen

The crowd at the Boston Fish Pier Seafood Festival

The crowd at the Boston Fish Pier Seafood Festival

The Boston Fisheries Foundation launched a new initiative to support New England’s sustainable fisheries with a celebrity chef-studded Sustainable Seafood Gala on Friday night, Friday, October 5 and a lively Boston Fish Pier Seafood Festival on Saturday, October 6, both held at the Bank of America Pavilion.  Day and night, the Pavilion was a beautiful backdrop for showcasing Boston’s newly thriving waterfront.

Ice sculpture of Boston seafood

Keeping the seafood well-iced at the Boston Seafood Festival gala.

The sold-out gala attracted industry luminaries as well as politicians, including Senator Scott Brown, State Senator Jack Hart, and hizzoner Boston Mayor Tom Menino, along with other local mayors.  (Disclosure: The PescoVegetarian Times was comped tickets because I blogged about the event.)

It was a delight to wander through the pavilion, tasting tongue-tingling ceviche from Jose Duarte (Taranta), perfectly grilled scallops from Andrew Hebert (Trade), and swordfish pastrami (who knew such a treat existed?) from Will Gilson (Puritan & Company), among treats from many other great chefs. But I was equally happy slurping perfect Wellfleet oysters, supplied by Schuck’s Seafood Catering.

List of options at the Boston Seafood FestivalChefs also showed off their stuff at the Saturday festival, which was a reasonable $10. Given how friends and relatives always demand seafood when they visit Boston, it’s hard to believe that this was Boston’s first all-seafood festival. The lively event featured music, an oyster shucking contest, arts and craft exhibitors, a lobster bake and other seafood vendors, and nonprofit and industry representatives extolling the nutritional, economic, and environmental benefits of eating local, sustainable seafood.

Woman in lobster mascot outfit

Some people will do anything to claw their way to the top

Dan McKiernan, Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, believes that due to the strict laws and rules now regulating the fishing industry, all of the local fisheries should be considered sustainable. Although he supports sustainable seafood certifiers like the Marine Stewardship Council, especially for imported seafood, he believes that many local fisheries don’t seek third party certification because it’s expensive. “The key to finding sustainable seafood is knowing your producer,” McKiernan says.

McKiernan was enthusiastic about the first annual Boston Seafood Festival.  “Boston was a huge fishing port 100 years ago,” he said.  Much of the industry has moved to Gloucester and New Bedford, but Boston is still a major hub for seafood distribution in and out of the US.  “The Seafood Festival will help people recognize the importance of seafood industry in Boston,” he added.

Taranta chef/owner Jose Duarte

Rock star Taranta chef/owner Jose Duarte demos how to make ceviche

Heather Tausig, the Associate Vice President for Conservation at the New England Aquarium, was happy that the Boston Seafood Festival is building awareness of the local seafood industry. “When people think about local food, seafood is the last thing that comes to mind,” she noted.

Tausig was also glad to see top chefs like Jose Duarte of Taranta demonstrating how to cook seafood, especially the less familiar species.  “People don’t know how to cook seafood,” she said, “so they stick with what they know, like salmon.”

One of the keys to maintaining a strong fishing industry in New England is encouraging diners to enjoy the less utilized species (the so-called trash fish) that are abundant in our local waters.  As a member of the Cape Ann Fresh Catch community supported fishery, I’ve been eating lots of redfish, hake, and sand dabs, but I’ve never tasted—or even heard of—dogfish before the festival.

Serving tastes of dogfish

Serving samples of Atlantic dogfish

Atlantic dogfish is actually a type of shark which is primarily eaten in Europe and Asia, but it’s extremely prevalent in New Bedford, where the US Atlantic Spiny Dogfish fishery is based.  In August, the fishery, represented by the Sustainable Fisheries Association, was the first East coast shark fishery to be certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

“We’re trying to get dogfish on more restaurant menus,” stated W. Tazewell Jones, the Project Manager for Saving Seafood, an organization funded by the local seafood industry to build awareness and support for local fisheries.  “When you buy it, it supports the local economy.”

The Sustainable Fisheries Association was serving up fresh samples of dogfish, cooked in a citrus sauce, at the festival.  They served 220 plates in the first hour alone.  “This crowd is very open to tasting new products,” Jones said. “People aren’t just grabbing a plate and running off–they want to hear about what they’re tasting.”

Elvis impersonator

Even Elvis loves Boston seafood.

For the record, I wasn’t crazy about my first taste of dogfish.  It tasted like a mild whitefish, but the texture was too soft for me—I like a firmer fish.  And will somebody figure out a better sounding name? Look what happened when some genius started marketing Patagonian toothfish as Chilean sea bass. It became so popular that the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch urges consumer to avoid eating it (for a variety of reasons, including overfishing).

I hope the Boston Fish Pier Seafood Festival becomes an annual event, because it seems like a perfect way to “catch” seafood lovers and teach them to love their local fisheries. As for me, they had me at the words, “Boston seafood.” Hopefully, next year, they’ll hook you, too. 

 

 

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