Happy Earth Day food nerds! Today we are celebrating our planet by highlighting a very cool group of humans who identify themselves as the "OG environmentalists" - fishermen. They have been working on and caring for our coastal waters for hundreds of years.
For better or worse, fishermen are also on the frontlines of climate change. They witness firsthand the impacts that our oceans are exhibiting because of some of the poor decisions we have made here on land. Things like balloons, pesticides, single-use plastics, and microdermabrasion beads often find their way into our ocean ecosystems hurting marine life and polluting the ocean. Fishermen have spent thousands of hours and traveled many miles around the ocean. They are passionate about their industry and committed to helping protect and preserve the 70% of our world that is covered in water.
To celebrate Earth Day and highlight the affect of climate change on our oceans, we had the privilege of speaking with Monique Coombs from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA). Monique fell in love with Maine lobster when she was a little kid. When she was a little older, she fell in love all over again, this time with a Maine lobsterman. This ignited her lifelong passion to help fisherman and our oceans. Today, Monique works alongside MCFA's Executive Director, Ben Martens to support and advocate on behalf of those protecting our oceans.
Let's meet Monique!
Q: Monique, we are SO excited to speak with you today! Could you give us a little bit of background on MCFA and your work?
A: Maine fishermen are the coolest bunch of people you will ever meet. I love my job, not just because of the work we get to do, but because of the people with whom I get to work. MCFA was founded in 2006 by fishermen in Port Clyde, Maine. The goals of the organization at the time were to ensure family fishing businesses had a unified voice in meeting rooms where big decisions were being made. That mission remains and has grown to an effort to restore the fisheries in the Gulf of Maine and sustain Maine’s fishing communities for future generations. MCFA fishermen are stewards of the ocean who care deeply about the environment and the future of their industry. I get to work with them on issues pertaining to the working waterfront, climate change, mental health, and seafood.
Q: In your role, what are some of the largest sustainability concerns you see and how does this impact fishermen’s livelihoods?
A: One thing that is greatly concerning to me is that not everyone gets to experience the ocean in a way that allows them to utterly understand both its beauty and its ferociousness. While it covers such a large portion of our planet, we somehow still fail to remember that everything we do on land impacts the ocean, and while it is fierce, it is also incredibly fragile. Pesticides, single-use plastics, microdermabrasion beads, and so much that we toss ends up in the ocean. Food waste, fast fashion, excessive consumerism, new phones, cruise ships, industrial agriculture, and transportation all contribute to polluting the ocean, but rarely do we ever engage in conversations that ask explicitly how those things could be managed better to protect the ocean and species that live there.
This impacts the livelihoods of fishermen in tremendous ways: warming waters; ocean acidification; declining fish stocks; and, in turn, increased regulations and restrictions on family fishing businesses that impede their ability to make a living and harvest sustainable seafood. Fishermen not only are on the frontlines of climate change, but they also end up facing the penance for poor decisions that occur inland.
Q: Many people are concerned about the quality of seafood they are eating - could you explain what types of seafood are best for the environment AND our bodies?
A: Seafood that is local to you is the best for you. Period. For those of us who work with fishing businesses, this is such an easy question to answer intuitively. But articulating an answer is a bit more difficult because the answer is nuanced, just like conversations about solutions to climate change are nuanced.
Seafood in the United States is sustainably harvested. The US has the strictest regulations in the world, often erring on the side of overly cautious, even at the detriment to family fishing businesses. Seafood is seasonal, and consumers should embrace that both as a means to better the environment and support fishermen. For example, scallops are a product that is harvested in the wintertime in Maine. We should eat lots and lots of Maine scallops in the winter, but also remember that scallops freeze really well, so when the season is ending buy in bulk. (Buying seafood seasonally is also good for your wallet!)
It is harder to buy seafood right from the harvester than it is to find local products from farmers at a farmers’ market. Not everyone lives near the coast, seafood is not always labeled clearly, not everyone has a fishmonger nearby, etc. Frozen seafood is a good option, and you can often find salmon from Alaska or shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico in the freezer section. Canned seafood and smoked seafood are also great options because they can be stored for longer periods of time and don’t require much effort.
Seafood is so good for your mental health, physical health and yes, the planet’s health. Wild-caught fish has a lower carbon footprint that any land-based protein.
Q: In your experience, what makes sous vide so great for seafood cooking?
A: It is sous-per easy. Cooking seafood in a sous vide allows for a few different things:
- It is easy to prep seafood on the weekend to later sear and serve during the week. For example, cooking scallops on a Sunday takes just 30 minutes in the sous vide. You can either eat the scallops as is (and even cold) during the week or throw them in a hot cast iron pan to sear them for dinner with a salad.
- You are not going to overcook fish. Being unsure how to prepare seafood properly is one of the number one reasons why more consumers don’t eat seafood enough. But, using the precision cookers allows you to cook seafood with, well, precision.
- Sous vide cooks fish perfectly. The first thing you will notice when you take a seafood out of the hot tub and pull it out of the bag will be that is the opposite of dry. It is cooked perfectly!
Q: How will YOU be celebrating earth day this year!?
A: I celebrate Earth day EVERY day! I am incredibly fortunate to live near the water, so I try to connect with nature and the ocean daily. It is extremely easy to be passionate about the ocean when you get to enjoy it every day. I can’t imagine not wanting to do everything that I can to protect it… whether it’s Earth day or just another day.
Make sure to check out the MCFA and et us know how you are celebrating this year!
Until next time,Anastasia