Your seafood supplier can be your best friend when it comes to identifying seafood species and avoiding fraud. Mark Palicki, VP of marketing for Fortune Fish out of Bensonville, Illinois, shares tips on labeling, traceability and smart buying strategies.
Q. How can operators be sure that the fish species they ordered is the one being delivered?
A. Very specific information should be listed on the order form. Instead of saying “grouper,” it should say “red grouper;” instead of “snapper,” “American red snapper.” A reputable supplier provides very detailed invoices, including country of origin and whether the fish has been previously frozen. Retail customers may even get the scientific name on their order forms. And every box should be printed with a bar code traceable to the vendor.
Q. What can operators do on their end?
A. Be flexible. Instead of specifically asking for red snapper or halibut, work with the supplier’s sales staff to zero in on the best values—usually what’s most plentiful and available. The top seafood suppliers employ ex-chefs as sales people and they can steer an operator to a comparable species that will make a good substitution on the menu.
Q. Is frozen fish a viable choice?
A. Most restaurants specify fresh fish only, and that’s one of the reasons mislabeling is more rampant. There just isn’t enough fresh seafood to meet demand. Frozen fish can be a really good product and better value. We buy fish that’s frozen whole with its skin and bones—but no head or tail. Halibut, black cod and Pacific cod are some examples; these can be cut and portioned to meet a restaurant’s specs.
Q. What about farmed fish?
A. The aquaculture industry is doing a much more sustainable job of raising farmed fish, especially shellfish. Seek out vendors who vet their fish farms. We buy from those that are honest, upfront and share the most information about environmental impact, feed, etc. We also encourage operators to do their own research.