by South By Southwest Staff and Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
As the 2016 South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival returned to Austin for the 30th time, the interactive incubator of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity portion featured five days of compelling presentations and panels from the brightest minds, including the Gulf Seafood Institute’s Texas Board Member Jim Gossen who will join three other presenters on a panel discussion on seafood bycatch.
Wherever there is fishing, there is bycatch, the incidental capture of non-target species, and some chefs/fishmongers are working hard to promote the “trash fish” on menus – both for the good of our planet and our taste buds. The panel discussion Hooked on Bycatch: Seafood You Should Be Eating took place on Saturday March 12th at the Driskill Hotel and focused on some of the underlining questions about “sustainable seafood”.
Who is successfully making bycatch a part of their everyday menu? What are they serving, and why? How can the movement be promoted nationwide?
While most educated diners want to order “sustainable seafood,” if faced with choosing between a responsibly harvested salmon and a fish they’ve never heard of (Can I interest you in a beautiful ribbonfish this evening?), diners most often rely on what they know and love.
A native of Louisiana with Cajun roots, Gossen has been an innovative and tireless leader for the recovery and improved sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico’s seafood industry. His 44-plus-year career in the restaurant, seafood processing and distribution business includes owning and operating six restaurants in Louisiana and Houston and founding Louisiana Foods Global Seafood Source, Texas’ largest seafood processing and distribution Company.
Supporting the Gulf seafood industry, Gossen has been instrumental in educating the public about the importance of the Gulf’s environment as both an economic engine and a home to diverse cultures. He has supported innovative marketing efforts and has been an ambassador for the region’s fishermen putting forward a vision of a healthy environment going hand-in-hand with productive fisheries.
According to Gossen, “I have been on a lifelong mission to promote the cultural importance of the Gulf of Mexico.”
Gossen Joins Gulf Greats
The Gulf Seafood Institute Board member will be joined by James Beard Award-winning Chef Chris Shepherd, Owner and Executive Chef at Houston’s Underbelly Restaurant; PJ Stoops, the Executive Chef at Houston’s Foreign Correspondents known for bringing Thailand’s culture and culinary customs to Houston; and Rosa Zirlott, a shrimper for more than 40-years and the co-owner of Alabama’s Murder Point Oysters.
SXSW Interactive is one part of the 10-day SXSW experience which also features music and film.
“Bycatch” – a term for the secondary unintended fish caught on lines and nets set for big, commercial catch like snapper, grouper and shrimp – can be a dirty word in the seafood industry. Often, volumes of fish go to waste, discarded by commercial fishermen because they can’t find buyers or they are not licensed to sell it.
Chefs from New York to Vegas and beyond are taking a different view of bycatch to diversify their menus.
“The most obvious advantage of using bycatch is that it’s less expensive than some more desirable premium fish, but it also gives overfished and commercially fished populations a break,” Gossen told Gulf Seafood News. “Just as the small-batch, nose-to-tail, farm-to-table trend taught diners to covet the odd and rare bits, bycatch might be a trend with similar cache: it is caught in limited quantities and the variety of fish available is far more diverse and interesting.”
There are minor roadblocks to serving bycatch – namely, laws limiting the type of fish commercial fishermen can sell. But fishermen need to be convinced to bring these lesser-known fish to the dock, said Gossen.
As well as a source for chefs, bycatch can bring extra profits for fisherman and shrimpers.
“Fishermen need to be encouraged to keep everything they catch and bring it back to shore. We can find a market for it and they will get paid,” said Gossen.
Gossen’s foresight was instrumental to the innovative Louisiana Foods Total Catch Program, which promotes the use of the entire catch to reduce wasteful by-catch. He is a recipient of the EPA’s Gulf Guardian Award, My Table’s Legends of the Industry, Southern Living’s Heroes of the New South Awards and is one of Cooking Light’s 20 Food Heroes in America.
The Gulf guardian is also a founding member of Foodways Texas and serves on the Advisory Board. The organization’s mission is to preserve, promote and celebrate the diverse food cultures of Texas.