TRANSCRIPT - Roger Berkowitz
Berkowitz is the President and CEO of Legal Seafoods. Based
in Boston, Legal Seafoods operates restaurants, mail order,
and a catering service.
Do you think it would be a good thing if other restaurants served
fish caught from sustainability managed fisheries?
thing now is that seafood is getting very popular so it presents
us with a conundrum. People finally understand how healthy it is,
so it is becoming very popular. But they are suddenly becoming aware
of this at a time when seafood is lowest in terms of availability.
So, I think that people really have to strategize as to how we are
going to use fish now. We have to really have a strategy.
Do you think a restaurant like yours provides a way for consumers
to play a role in conserving and restoring marine resources?
I think that
we all have a responsibility in business, regardless of what business
you are in. And if we are in the business of selling fish, I want
to be able to sell fish twenty years down the road and so really
I have to be a conservationist in terms of how I approach it. I
want our guests to feel good about what we are doing and feel confident
that we are doing the right thing that we are not being exploitative.
And if they understand what were doing and they buy into our
strategy, then it is a win-win for all.
By and large, have the customers here appreciated your efforts?
I think so.
Its interesting. Some people look at us and say, "Youre
a conservationist? You believe in conservation?" I think they are
pleasantly surprised and they feel good about it. There are stories
out there about supplies being low and whats being done. I
think that if we can explain to them what we are doing to make sure
that the seafood is sustainable and that we do have a vested
interest in making sure that the supplies are there not just today,
but five or ten years down the road they feel better about
Would you care to speak to the potential of consumer choice in contributing
to marine conservation efforts?
are more informed than ever before. And particularly we find that
those who eat seafood are the most informed. We always like to joke
that fish is brain food and that the most intelligent people eat
seafood. It is a lifestyle thing and people understand that when
they eat fish, it is a healthy alternative and the best source of
From a consumer
standpoint they really want to feel good about what they are doing.
They want to have as much information as possible. Its sort of like
reading a label seeing what the fat content is, what the
sodium content is. They want to make intelligent choices and I think
giving them information where they can go and make a choice between
a sustainable source of seafood and one that is endangered is important
To what degree do you think that consumers can make a choice to
come to a restaurant like yours or shop for fish that they know
has been produced is a sustainable way? To what degree do you think
they are creating an incentive for fishermen or fish farmers to
adopt sustainable practices?
think consumers completely understand the power that they have in
terms of motivating people to do certain things.
But any time
consumers vote with their feet, the marketplace is very quick to
change and pay attention. So as long as consumers are going into
places and saying, you know, "I dont want that species, it
might be endangered," or "I want this," you know, the fishermen
arent stupid. It all goes back to the whole issue of swordfish.
I think that the movement on swordfish has been very good, because
it has gotten a lot of the focus off of small swordfish. Now the
issue is becoming one of how it is harvested, which is a good issue.
The larger fish arent endangered, but if we can get the industry
back to harpooning, then it is a win-win for all. People are just
starting to understand the problem, but they need more information.
They cannot blindly say we dont want swordfish at all because
that's not the solution. The solution is not to get swordfish off
the menus: the solution is to have the largest swordfish there caught
in a sustainable way.
What is your sense as to the relationship between sustainably caught
fish and quality seafood?
I think that
there should be attention paid to how fish is harvested as a country
or as a business or as an industry. Over the years even though its
a somewhat primitive industry, it has become very efficient over
the past fifteen or twenty years. You know, they now have fish finders
that can go out and find every bit of fish in the sea or at least
that is what they propose in their advertising. The nets and the
trawling become very, very efficient, but it is interesting. You
can get good quality fish off a net or a trawler. Im not so
sure about gill netting but when it comes to the hand lining or
the hooking there is really much better quality. And that is really
the most primitive way of harvesting fish. So if we go back to some
of the most primitive forms of fishing, I think we are going to
end up with uniformly better quality across the board.
Go back to harpooning are you kidding?
thing from a consumer standpoint, if it were explained to consumers,
is that first of all, the harpooned fish, is THE best tasting fish
you can get, because it is a quick kill, it comes right out of the
water, it really is a spectacular eating fish. I think that if the
demand wentthat if pe ople knew that they were paying more
it cost me more per pound to buy it. And Ive explained
to my consumers that this is the finest caught swordfish and that
is does need a premium in terms of what it costs on the plate, I
dont think that's a barrier. I think that people will migrate
towards that, creating a demand for more harpooning of swordfish
to go on out there, and that's what is going to drive the fishermen.
To the extent that people really dont care then theres
not a driving force. But Ive been trying to talk to the fishermen,
to tell them, "Look, I will pay you more." I want the large, harpooned
fish. Aside from anything else, it does better for the species.
But it is a better eating fish to begin with. Better with fat content
If and when the Marine Stewardship Council starts certifying seafood
products, will your restaurant start purchasing only those products?
on those products if the quality is where I need it to be. But yes.
It will be a compelling reason to look at them first. Im not
sure that the Council will be able to be equally distributed across
all the different varieties of fish that are out there. But certainly
I think they are doing the right thing to target fisheries that
are sustainable. Then it is up to us as the buyers to make sure
that people are handling that sustainable fishery in the proper
way. So I would pay attention to those first. But Im not sure
that it would solve the complete supply issue.
thing is that a fish industry or a fishery that is certified, say,
by groups like the Marine Stewardship Council would be compelling
for us to take a look at first because they are trying to do the
right thing. So I would absolutely look at those fish first. Then
it would be up to me as a buyer to make sure that people that are
bringing in that product are handling it in the right way. But yes,
I would absolutely take a look at that fishery first.
Part of our documentary series is about aquaculture. There is a
lot of controversy about the salmon and shrimp aquaculture. Were
looking at a lot of the problems involved, we are also going to
areas where are looking at efforts to do it right. There is a steep
But as you
are probably aware, certain people put a lot of stock in marine
aquaculture as potentially one day taking a lot of the pressure
off the worlds oceans. What's your take on that?
agree. I think that aquaculture is going to be a vital part of the
strategy in figuring out how to better manage the worlds fish
supplies. We have to have something that takes the pressure off,
and certainly fish farming does take the pressure off. And that
balance, I think, will keep us and the worlds populations
supplied with seafood and the worlds populations. We need
the two. We cannot do it anymore with just one source.
A lot of the small boat fishermen are complaining that it is really
tough for them now. Here in New England a lot of the areas that
are closed are really near shore. The trawlers and the off-shore
fishermen are raking it in, and small fishermen are having a lot
of trouble. They are beginning to think that participation in the
New England Fishery Management Council is biased toward big boat
operators. Do you think that the emerging markets for environment-friendly
seafood makes it more possible for smaller scale fishermen to take
advantage of this niche market?
I try to think of myself at times. If I were a small boat operator,
how would I market that product? They have a number of advantages
over the larger boats going out.
sure that the Fisheries Council has taken them into consideration
in an equitable kind of way. They may have some good complaints
and some issues about being treated fairly. But a small boat fisherman
certainly can sell his fish as boutique fish. He can control the
quality of it much better. He is out at sea fewer days. If he does
it right, it is to his advantage.
Some fishermen fear that the Marine Stewardship Council certification
will put certain small-scale fishermen at a disadvantage because
they are not going to be able to afford to be certified.
sure exactly how it is going to work in terms of cost structure
to them. In one sense its good. One thing that the MSC brings
to the table is it takes pressures off the fisheries that cannot
handle the over fishing and it gives people alternatives. It gives
some of the stocks the opportunity to come back. I think that long
term, its not a huge expense and that its something
that should be considered as a viable strategy.
There have been a lot of people saying that globalization of the
fish market is what has made it possible for certain areas to be
over fished for example, orange roughy and so forth.
Well I haven't
been to the Fulton Fish Market recently but youre right: there
are fish there from all over the world. You see very little from
North Atlantic waters any more and twenty years ago it was virtually
all from North Atlantic waters. I think that people are using alternatives,
because they cannot get the cod and so are using a lot of South
American fish. Selfishly, it is one of the strategies that the U.S.
market can use to rebuild their stocks, so that they are not so
reliant, and not everyone is bidding up every single piece of fish
from the North Atlantic. It takes some of the pressure off of it.
So selfishly, Im glad that thats sort of coming into
the marketplace, balancing it out a little bit. My sense is that
when the stocks start coming back, markets like the Fulton Street
Fish Market will start to use more North Atlantic fish and be less
reliant on the exotic fish coming in.
Several scientists are looking into the effects of bottom trawling.
They are concerned that these heavy bottom trawls are knocking over
a lot of the structure that is needed for juvenile fish to hide
from predators. If they were to decide that bottom trawling is a
big piece of the problem, wouldnt that make a lot of the fish
that you and others caught a potential problem?
would be less supply, but its interesting.
This is sort
of American ingenuity. There is an issue or problem; how do you
respond to it? You see a lot more of the smaller boats out there
and they have gear and can still harvest without doing damage to
the bottom. Figure a way around it: thats the American way.
There may very
well be a problem with bottom trawling in terms of how it affects
the habitat, but American ingenuity has always intervened whenever
there was a problem. If they are told you cannot do that, they dont
hit the wall and stop. They figure out a way around it and develop
either a different way of trawling, or a different kind of boat...whatever.
But you cannot stop them from fishing. Theyll just do it according
to whatever the new rules are. So if those are the new rules, if
it comes out that bottom trawling is banned, theyll figure
out a way around it.