By J.M. Hirsch
May 13, 2001
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Henry Lovejoy is a fishmonger for the 21st Century.
Unlike his seafood-peddling forebears, he doesn't offer just any old catch of the day. But it isn't his use of the Internet, overnight shipping and flash freezing that makes EcoFish so nouveau.
Lovejoy's 8-month-old seafood distribution company helps people make meals that reflect their morals.
EcoFish is a rare breed because, unlike most distributors, it offers only sustainably harvested fish, the seafood equivalent of organic fruits and vegetables.
"There is a very strong movement in this country to sustainability," says Lovejoy, 37. "It's evidence that more and more consumers are becoming more and more concerned about their food and where it came from."
Definitions of sustainable vary, but it generally refers to seafood caught or raised in ways that won't deplete stocks and are sensitive to the environment.
The movement mostly is driven by consumer demand — the desire to support eco-sensitive practices. It first became an issue during the 1970s when consumers wanted their tuna to be dolphin-safe.
Conservationists say conventional fishing practices, such as trawling and fish farming, can endanger species and harm the environment.
Fishermen have long wrangled with government and conservation groups over how best to ensure that seafood is not over-harvested. This creates a financial tug-of-war that pits jobs against the environment.
Susan Boa, spokeswoman for the Seafood Choices Alliance in Washington, D.C., said fish are losing the battle. She said more than 100 species in U.S. waters are overfished and could risk extinction.
Meanwhile, the short supply and efforts to limit fishing also make it difficult for fishermen to earn a living. Conservationists say the solution is to use sustainable practices, which preserve jobs and fish stocks.
However, some people in the industry say the sustainable seafood movement is more about public relations than species protection.
Thor Lassen, president of Ocean Trust, an industry-supported group in Arlington, Va., said the federal and local governments have done an excellent job of maintaining the country's fish stocks.
He said efforts to market sustainable seafood unfairly undermine the credibility of that system and are likely to confuse consumers and hurt legitimate fisheries that follow the law.
Lovejoy and numerous conservation groups disagree that the current system works. Lovejoy became so disenchanted with the industry 2 1/2 years ago that he sold his lobster business to go back to school and leave seafood behind.
The idea that became EcoFish was inspired by Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont ice cream maker that has been a pioneer in mass marketing with a conscience. Among its initiatives, Ben & Jerry's gives 7 percent of pretax profits to charity.
Lovejoy's Portsmouth, N.H.-based company offers 25 percent to marine conservation efforts.
Before it even started, the business faced tough obstacles, namely credibility and research, Lovejoy said.
Consumers need to know that EcoFish products live up to the company's mission, he said. And that requires significant and continuing research of fish stocks, harvesting methods and consumer demand.
Lovejoy came up with a solution to both problems: an advisory board made up of conservationists that would approve all contracts with fisheries.
So far, the board, which includes officers of the National Audubon Society and World Wildlife Fund, has approved contracts with 10 fisheries.
Though there are no national sales figures for sustainable seafood, sales of organic products have grown by 20 percent every year since 1990 and represent a roughly $7.8 billion industry, according to the Organic Trade Association, based in Greenfield, Mass.
Sustainably harvested seafood does not come cheap. Lovejoy's catches, which range from albacore tuna to wild Alaskan salmon, cost as much as 20 percent more than traditional seafood. But the higher costs bring an unexpected benefit, Lovejoy said. Fishermen are paid more for using sustainable practices, and that helps conservation efforts.
For orders and more information, go to www.ecofish.com
For lists of seafood that conservation groups say are and are not good to eat, go to Monterey Bay Aquarium or the National Audubon Society.
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