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Act like a Citizen Scientist, Eat like a Fish

By Katie Cubina

While Mystic Aquarium is accustomed to being the hosts of many citizen science projects each year -like horseshoe crab counts and amphibians monitoring- recently my colleague, MaryEllen Mateleska, and I turned participant. In a funky twist on the popular BioBlitz, citizen scientists inventoried what’s being served up at their local fish markets.

Eating with the Ecosystem recruited citizen science volunteers from across New England to help gain a greater understanding of the composition of our New England seafood marketplace.  The goal of the second annual Market Blitz was to obtain a broad snapshot of what fish species are made available in New England retail markets.

Enamored with the concept of Eating with the Ecosystem, I joined a virtual team of seafood enthusiasts this past March to see what my local seafood markets had to offer. MaryEllen and I joined over 80 other volunteers to collect data at hundreds of seafood retail markets (including supermarkets) in all six New England states.

New England provides a diversity of local seafood species- there are at least a hundred edible wild species that thrive in our waters-yet despite the abundance of seafood produced in our local waters, we typically eat very few local species.  Presumably part of that ‘problem’ is availability.

We collected and recorded data on what species were present, where they were sourced, pricing, and if they are fresh, live, etc.

What amazed me was how different the seafood choices were between the large chain supermarket where I typically purchase most of my goods, and my local seafood market, which I frequent specifically for seafood. While the chain supermarket had greater diversity of seafood options, and better prices, there were almost no local options, and the quality looked, well…questionable.  In contrast, my small, local seafood market didn’t have a tremendous diversity, but about 50% of what they were selling was harvested locally, and all looked so fresh.

For me, making sustainable seafood choices feels even better when you can eat fresh, locally-caught seafood that also supports New England’s fishing communities.

The bigger story behind the story is what wasn’t being sold. Most of what is caught locally is shipped to markets overseas. Through their efforts, Eating with the Ecosystem is trying help create a demand for some of those lesser-known species. Maybe next year, I’ll see some of those species at the market during the 2020 Seafood Market Blitz.

See what MaryEllen had to say, about this interesting, important and informative project.

This was my first year participating in Eating with the Ecosystem’s Annual Seafood Market Blitz, which had me visit two local supermarkets to collect information on variety of seafood available, prices, and origin.  It was a pretty eye opening experience.  I don’t spend too much time in the seafood section of stores so I wasn’t expecting the variety of options or that so many of the products were imported.  With a fishing port in Stonington, I was expecting more options from our local waters!  But, I was pleasantly surprised at how well-labeled everything was (I could tell how it was caught/sourced, if it was fresh or frozen, and native/imported), how eager the staff working the counter was to help and how easy it is choose the best options to eat!

Following the Market Blitz, the Eat like a Fish citizen science project produced first-of-its-kind data to help seafood eaters, sellers, and promoters plot a course for achieving greater symmetry between the wild creatures in New England’s ocean ecosystem and those found in its markets.

According to the Executive Summary of Eat Like a Fish, “understanding the assimilation of local species by New England seafood supply chains is an important first step in achieving greater symmetry between ecosystems and markets, reducing impacts on ocean food webs, and positioning local fishing economies to be resilient in the face of change.”

The complete executive summary and the full results are available by visiting https://www.eatingwiththeecosystem.org/eat-like-a-fish

As I mentioned, I’m pretty enthusiastic about the concept of sustainable seafood especially right here in our own waters. Mystic Aquarium is excited to be further partnering with Eating with the Ecosystems; most notably for our upcoming Conservation in Action event on Thursday, July 11.

Eating with the Ecosystem, a Rhode Island-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting a locally-sourced approach to sustaining New England’s wild seafood.

During the event in Mystic Aquarium’s main gallery guests will enjoy sustainable seafood appetizers and gourmet bites created by Ocean Blue Catering from the cookbook Simmering the Sea: Diversifying Cookery to Sustain Our Fisheries.  There will also be a presentation from Kate Masury, Program Director of Eating with the Ecosystem and local fisherman, Shana Kuhse, detailing how embracing flexibility in seafood choices is the most fundamental component of a sound food system. They will also present the recent results of the Eat Like a Fish citizen science project.  For more information or to purchase tickets, call 860.572.5995Ext 520 or visit MysticAquarium.org/events or click here.

Through this partnership, we hope to raise awareness about the dozens of species of seafood we have readily available to us, and that they are just as delicious as our more recognizable favorites!

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