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Sea food for thought
November 6, 2018

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Where do culinary art and environmental awareness meet?

This was the question posed by the second annual Southwest Florida Sustains event last Thursday.

Chefs from across the island gathered at the DiamondHead with their best seafood dishes in tow, like smoked Wahoo dip, coconut Mahi, and octopus ceviche.

Coste Chef de Cuisine Anthony Ventura prepared Verlasso salmon crostinis topped with red onion and herbs.

Verlasso made waves in 2013 when their ocean-farmed Chilean salmon became the first to get a yellow rating on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch List.

This advisory list is used by chefs around the world to inform sustainable seafood purchasing and alleviate demand on overfished populations.

Green means "best choice," yellow denotes a "good alternative," and red means "avoid."

"The ocean farm is pollutant free, it's harvested humanely, and you can actually trace the fish back to the egg there, so it's not like we're just pulling a bunch of fish out of the ocean and ruining the environment," Ventura said.

The night featured a talk by Dr. Rick Bartleson of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation. Bartleson's research focuses on flows from the Caloosahatchee River and their effects on the environment.

He discussed red tide and its causes in-depth, and explained how residents can make a difference by voting for public officials with good environmental track records.

He suggested using the League of Conservation Voters website, which rates public officials based on their voting history about environmental issues.

A nervous patron raised his hand and asked, is it safe to eat fish?

"The flesh of the fish doesn't get enough of the red tide toxin in it to bother people," Dr. Bartleson said. "It's not enough neurotoxin to affect you. Eat the fish, or eat the crabs, but what you don't want to eat is shellfish."

That's because shellfish are filter feeders which absorb larger amounts of toxins and bacteria.

So what affect has red tide had on the culinary arts here?

"I don't know that it's really taken that much of a toll on the seafood world in terms of what's available and what we're eating," says Alicia Rutter, chef at Fish Tale. "It's more that people are not coming to the area."

This is one of the reasons Fort Myers Beach Friends of the Arts hosts this annual event.

"One of our core values is to produce something arts-related during the off-season which helps the businesses on the Beach," said board member Janeen Paulauskis.

"It's an opportunity to experience and learn about local sustainable seafood, celebrate our waters, while supporting the arts and our local businesses."

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