The ocean is a vital part of life on our planet. It provides daily protein for over a billion people, is a reliable source of food for billions more, and 200 million people are employed directly or indirectly by the seafood industry. But our oceans need help: overfishing, illegal and destructive fishing, and climate change not only negatively impact species and ecosystems, but human communities too.
These women are doing their part to change the industry toward a more sustainable model that helps the environment and the food chain, and provides access to healthy food for more people.
The daughter of restaurateur and James Beard Award Winning chef Nora Pouillon, Nina Damato and her family founded Blue Circle Foods in 2003 because they saw a gap in the market for high-quality sustainable seafood. After joining the company in 2015, turned her eye to transforming it into a modern, accessible CPG seafood brand and employee-owned company.
“We responsibly source our fish directly from farmers and fishermen with no middleman,” says Damato. “Direct relationships with farmers and fishermen have been cultivated over years; we speak to them regularly and have full transparency. We take ownership of the product from catch to delivery.” All products are audited by a third party to meet strict sustainability and transparency standards, free from antibiotics, growth hormones, GMOs, synthetic pigments, and added sugar.
“Aquaculture has come a long way in the last 15 years, and our farmers have been at the forefront of those improvements,” says Damato. “Innovations in sustainable feed have made farmed Norwegian salmon one of the most efficient and sustainable sources of protein available. It’s important for us to take as little as possible out of the environment to protect marine ecosystems. For every pound of salmon Blue Circle Foods produces, we take less than half a pound of fish out of the ocean. This is called net protein production, and fish farming (when done right) is one of the best ways to create more protein for the world’s growing population. To reduce our reliance on wild fish, we use microalgae (a renewable resource) in the salmon feed. This provides the salmon with a great source of omega-3s in their diet while replacing our dependence on fish meal. The result? We take fewer fish out of the ocean.”
Blue Circle Foods is also one of the first seafood producers to have products certified by the Upcycled Foods Association. The brand uses portions of salmon meat that don’t fit into the 4 oz and 5 oz size requirements to be sold as a fillet. As the meat is trimmed off the fish, there are out of spec pieces. Instead of these pieces going to waste or second markets, Blue Circle Foods use these wrong-sized pieces in their burgers and Happy Fish Salmon, which are made with 40% upcycled salmon meat. “We have taken the time to not only figure out how to save salmon that would otherwise leave the food system but also develop a recipe for our burgers and Happy Fish that doesn’t use binders or fillers.”
Along with her team, Nina is always seeking to improve the company’s innovative products and packaging. New smoked salmon packaging will be made of 70% recycled water bottles while new products like Happy Fish are making premium healthy seafood accessible to more Americans.
A veteran of Michelin-starred kitchens, Top Chef runner up and SundayBest pop-up founder and cookbook author, Adrienne Cheatam is one of the chefs featured in ‘Ocean Cookbook 2023’ recently released by The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC.) The global not-for-profit organization is responsible for the world’s leading sustainable seafood ecolabel.
The free digital cookbook brings together chefs and fishers from all over the world to create a collection of healthy everyday recipes that tell a sustainability story about the seafood we all love. It includes a simple, delicious recipe from Cheatam that uses sustainable canned tuna – her Tuna Tonnato Salad.
“The popularity of canned fish continues to grow, so I wanted to use tuna in this recipe that is accessible to home chefs and can be prepared in an affordable, yet sustainable way,” says Cheatam. “I’ve been working with fish and seafood my entire cooking career, and it’s incredibly important to me that we protect that resource so that we have access to it in the future. As a chef, working with a globally recognized organization that leads the way in sustainable and wild seafood like the MSC, greatly aligns with my ideals.”
“The MSC blue fish label is one certification that I look for when purchasing seafood, because it indicates that the fish was caught in a sustainable way and comes from a verified supply chain,” continues the chef. “It’s important as a chef to ensure that I prepare and serve sustainably sourced seafood as it builds trust with guests and demonstrates that we’re making responsible choices with our ingredient selection.”
“It can be challenging with seafood, depending on where you are and what you’re looking for, to create and maintain relationships with fishers, so I especially love that my recipe is paired with a quote from an albacore tuna fisherman, taking people directly to the source and [explaining] why it’s important to preserve our ocean resources.”
Born in Montreal, Valentine Thomas was trained as a lawyer in Canada and worked in finance in London for six years before completely changing her career path, becoming a world record professional spearfisherwoman and freediver and an ambassador for ocean sustainability worldwide. She is a two-time TEDx speaker, Forbes Changemaker, and book author.
Among her many areas of expertise, Thomas is on a mission to educate people to make good seafood choices while fostering a sense of community to create a leading change in seafood consumption. As someone who catches one fish at a time, she has a deep respect and understanding of the ocean and the need to help create a sustainable seafood system. She is an advocate for The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Ocean Wise, organizations that certify commercial fisheries for sustainability and social well being.
“Commercial fishing is a reality,” said Thomas. “Spearfishing is the most sustainable and humane way of consuming fish and seafood. Even though I have the chance to be able to catch my own food, we have to think about the fact that a lot of people don’t. When you go to the store and pick a fish, just think about what you’re buying. Take the time to inform yourself about what’s good, what’s not, and what difference you can make in your household. Small actions, such as buying an MSC certified can of tuna, have a positive impact.”
Her first book published in the U.S., Good Catch: A Guide to Sustainable Fish and Seafood with Recipes from the World’s Oceans, will be out this Spring (May 16 from Union Square & Co.) Part message, part memoir and part cookbook, the book covers varied diving and fishing locales such as South Africa, Scandinavia, the Marshall Islands, Taiwan, and her native Quebec, alongside 75 recipes for dishes inspired by her catches.
In the book, Thomas also teaches readers the surprisingly simple skills they’ll need to build a responsible repertoire of seafood recipes with tips for making the most eco-friendly choices, all aided by step-by-step illustrations, showing readers the best ways to prepare every type of fish, from raw dishes like ceviche to baked whole fish.