Fisherman Buddy Guindon, one of the organizers of Gulf Wild, spoke at a seafood workshop last week when Paul Qui, Randy Evans, Chris Shepherd, Danny Trace, David Luna, and some of the other top chefs in Texas gathered in Galveston to discuss the state of Gulf seafood. The meeting was organized by Houston chef Bryan Caswell of Reef and seafood dealer Jim Gossen of Louisiana Foods under the auspices of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.
Seafood marketing on the Gulf Coast lags way behind the East and West Coasts, noted Austin chef Paul Qui. On the West Coast, your sales rep is actually looking at the fish you are ordering. On the East Coast, Browne Trading Company in Portland Maine fills custom orders for the nation's best restaurants and guarantees the quality of each fish. There are no such "boutique seafood" firms on the Gulf.
The Gulf Wild program is one solution to the marketing problem. This group of fisherman are offering wildcaught finfish individually tagged with a label that identifies the species, date caught, and fishing boat to create a brand of authenticated wildcaught Gulf fish for the upscale seafood market. The Gulf Wild branding also offers an alternative to the rampant fish fraud that plagues the restaurant industry. Instead of taking your waiter's word for it when the menu says "red snapper," you can look at a label that tells you exactly where the red snapper was caught and when.
The seafood workshop also discussed new fish processing options, like the Japanese ike jime technique traditionally used by sushi fishermen but now being adopted by some Gulf fishermen. All agreed that changing the mindset of Gulf fishermen, shrimpers, crabbers, and oystermen is going to be a challenge. Bringing chefs and fishermen together is a first step—putting chefs on fishing boats and bringing fishermen to visit restaurant kitchens were both discussed.
For a full report on the proceedings, check out this blog post: "From Harvest to Plate: How Can We Maximize Seafood Production and Sustainability," at the Gulf of Mexico Foundation website.