At Verlasso, we believe that it’s not what we do, it’s why we do it. We aim for nothing less than changing the world through sustainable aquaculture. We believe that we are part of a unique space that can help supply a growing population with the most sustainable protein for generations to come. At our core, the mission is philanthropic and has the highest level of intent. In celebration of National Seafood Month, Verlasso is beyond excited to announce its collaboration with Barton Seaver for 2018.
For those of you who don’t know, Barton is an acclaimed chef as well as one of the most important thought leaders and change makers in the sustainable aquaculture space. He is a National Geographic Fellow; the director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University’s School of Public Health; and the New England Aquarium’s first Sustainability Fellow. He has authored several cookbooks including For Cod and Country, Two if by Sea, and the soon-to-be-released American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery from Sea to Shining Sea – a book that is a comprehensive and ambitious history of the fish and seafood industry.
Verlasso supports all points of a community that sacrifice each and every day to bring the most sustainable salmon to the United States. We are constantly working to connect with local, regional and national communities by providing in-kind donations, support, man hours and much more to create a positive impact. Barton as well has a pragmatic and impactful approach to sustainability, and has become one of the world’s leading voices in the fish and seafood conversation. The compelling similarity of mission and purpose is what brings his thought leadership and our company together. Barton was one of the first chefs to ever visit the Verlasso farm sites on a trip to the Patagonia nearly five years ago, and described his experience as transformative in the way that he felt about aquaculture in the region.
So here we are again – ready to make a positive difference together! Get to know Barton a bit more by reading through our mini Q & A. Learn about his personal efforts as well as his thoughts on some of the most debated topics surrounding sustainable seafood. See you all in 2018!
What role do you feel that certifications or recommendations within the NGO community help shape what consumers will buy?
It’s very important that there is an independent third party validation of producers’ sustainability efforts, both as a reward for best practices as well as an incentive to pursue them. Giving consumers means to distinguish is a very important aspect of driving sustainable behaviors. But there is a danger in using strictly biological metrics to define what is or is not sustainable. More and more so, many of these efforts are beginning to be inclusive of the social aspects of sustainability including human rights. This is exceedingly important as customers are only truly empowered when they can see a product through the full picture and scope of its impacts. Determining purchases through such a singular focus, consumers might inadvertently create negative outcomes as it relates to the pursuit of sustainability.
With nearly 80% of the fish and seafood sold in the United States being “sustainable” according to the EDF, how can aquaculture companies, chefs, distributors and retailers tell a better story to get this message to consumers?
Consumers first and foremost respond to taste and health, with sustainability trailing these interests. I think in this way, sustainability should be a seasoning rather than the main ingredient in the narrative recipe. I by no means am seeking to diminish the importance of sustainability, but rather being honest about what conversations consumers are already having. It’s my belief that the consumer's role in creating better food systems is that they can create pressure and demand for companies to consistently improve upon their practices. Especially if there's already a loyalty to that product that provides the incentive for producers and sales avenues to live up to the consumer expectations or beat them.
Tell us about your community-based environment conservation efforts.
Environments are subject to the communities that will sustain them. By addressing environmental sustainability through social constructs of economic growth, culture, and public health, we align sustainability with important human interests, and thus empower a larger audience to see themselves and environments as linked.
What is the focus of the work that you do through the Harvard School of Public Health? How do you hope that this type of role can drive change in the fish and seafood industry?
The Center for Health and Global Environment at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health provides an incredible platform for conversations about how environments impact humans. Far too often the seafood industry focuses only on seafood, not on consumers or the context in which seafood enters their lives. Having the support of such a known and trusted institution opens up entirely new avenues of conversation that otherwise seafood has no access to and would not play a role.
2018 looks to be a big year in terms of impact for you. How do you see Verlasso helping in that mission and how do you feel you can support Verlasso’s efforts of continuous improvement at all levels from hatchery to plate?
I’ve just published a book telling the story of our seafood heritage and how we got to where we are. Part of that conversation is the question, where are we going? The answer, per the FAO SDGs (and as per NOAA and some of the leading thinkers such as Wally Stevens at GAA) is that we must move towards aquaculture as not only an opportunity to make seafood more sustainable and enduring as a growth-potential market, but also using seafood as a means to elevate the dialogue about food systems in general. There are more people coming to this planet and populations are rapidly increasing, but there is no more arable land. There is already a shortage of fresh water and a lot of political, societal and emotional issues with the increasing productivity of conventional and new forms of agriculture (as well as re-investing in organic and heritage methods of production). The most logical place to grow food production and to drive sustainability as a macro topic is to increase our dependence upon sustainable marine and freshwater food production. After all, 71% of our planet is in fact water. It’s about time we look beyond the comfortable confines of solid ground to find our future.
In order to do this, we have to provide positive examples. We need to combat the negative or even neutral perception of ocean food systems by informing consumers about the potential - gaining not only market support but also social license to pursue expansion of aquaculture efforts. We’re only going to achieve this by showcasing positive examples such as Verlasso. Aquaculture is not about brand versus brand, but rather showcasing the true leaders in the field in order to promote broader adoption of best practices and sustainability innovations, and to augment consumer confidence.