Fishing for fish
There was a time when the question about a February fish dinner was confined to “cod or flounder?” But the days of coming home to find that a local fisherman has left a mess of tobies (cod fish roe) in your ice box is long since gone. And, on Block Island, it is no longer possible to seek out a local fisherman to see what is being purveyed on deck.
So, as is often the case, the last stop before getting on the home-bound boat in Pt. Judith is a dash into a Galilee fish market, where recently I found myself face-to-face with Black Sea Bass.
Black Sea Bass is an interesting fish. Distant cousin to Striped Bass, but in the grouper family, this fish is strictly a marine fish (i.e. no part of its life cycle is found in fresh water, like the anadromous Striper). Black Sea Bass is a bottom-dwelling fish found among rocky bottoms. It is found along the eastern seaboard from the Gulf of Maine to Florida, and is fished both commercially and recreationally. From a fisheries management point-of-view Black Sea Bass are divided in to two stocks: the Mid-Atlantic and the South-Atlantic populations. The two stocks have slightly different migration habits — presumable based on water temperature variations in the two environments. The fish in the Mid-Atlantic stock move towards the coast in spring and summer and into deeper off-shore waters in the winter.
Alas, also gone are the days of blithely acquiring whatever fish is found on the fish monger's ice. Now in addition to identifying the fish, knowing its taste and texture and recipes, it is also necessary for the conscientious consumer to be knowledgeable about the state of the fishery itself. It is not enough to ponder “bake, broil, poach or fry?” It is now important to also consider whether this fish species is being over-fished; is it free from elevated levels of mercury and other toxins; was the environment or other animals damaged in the process of growing or harvesting; was it caught locally or was it flown in from Alaska or South America? Yes, fishing for a fish dinner is much more complicated than it once was.
“Rivers and the inhabitants of the watery elements are made for wise men to contemplate and for fools to pass by without consideration.” — Izaak Walton
There are many references to help sort out the complication of fish choice. The first point of reference is the knowledge that the best fish is one that you caught yourself. Since it is rarely possible for one to take in hand the time needed to bait hook or trap, and patiently pursue one's supper, it should be incumbent upon each to invest a relatively small amount of time to fish up the facts about a fish/fishery in advance of purchase. The internet is awash with helpful sites. Some particularly helpful organizations an websites are listed here.
• To learn more about Black Sea Bass go to: http://www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/sea_bass/species_pages/black_sea_bass.htm
• The Blue Ocean Institute is a terrific resource for learning about our earth's oceans, and the status of its fishes’ health. They provide an especially handy wallet card reference which can be down loaded at: http://blueocean.org/files/July2010SeafoodGuideOnline.pdf
• Wild Rhody, an organization started by two Point Judith fishermen, is both a resource for choosing fish products and an inspiration about why it is important. The time you spend checking out Wild Rhody to consider an intentional fish choice is far less than would be spent casting a line or net. Go to: http://www.wildrhodyseafood.com
For more opportunities to consider the dynamic connection of people and nature join these February Ocean View Foundation events and programs:
February 15 at 11 a.m.: Great Backyard Bird Count This short walk around the Old Harbor is part of the National Audubon and Cornell lab of Ornithology's citizen science program. Meet at the Island Free Library.
February 19 at 9 a.m.: Crazy-as-a-Coot Bird Walk, call 595-7055 for location.
February 21: Winter Vacation Day Trip to the Coggeshall Farm.
February 25: Full Snow Moon.
February ??: Listen for the season’s first trilling Red-winged Blackbird.