Cape group pushes dogfish as viable seafood option
Written by Doug Fraser | www.capecodtimes.com
Row 34 chef Jeremy Sewall holds a plate of pan roasted dogfish with pilaf and grilled lemon. Members of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance in Chatham meet with representatives at the 2016 Seafood Expo North America in Boston Monday. Dogfish was cooked for a group at Row 34. The expo was held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Photo credit: Cape Cod Times.
BOSTON — The Seafood Expo is the largest seafood show in North America covering over 516,000 square feet of exhibition space this week at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
For the second year in a row, members of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance spent three days talking dogfish with international and national buyers and sellers, and executive chefs at the show as part of an ongoing campaign to put the small shark on restaurant menus and on the dinner table as a sustainably caught, local whitefish.
“I think the market is gigantic and, if you talk to the fishermen in Chatham, they will tell you, you can’t drop a hook in the water without getting a dogfish. Between those two facts, (the market) will continue to build over time, but it’s already gaining a lot of traction,” said Michael Dimin, founder of Sea to Table, a company that markets artisanal fish directly to chefs across the country.
Processers successfully campaigned to get dogfish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council a few years back because the population was booming and the dogfish daily trip limit is kept low at 5,000 pounds. Chatham catches about 6 million pounds out of the state’s 9 million pounds in annual landings. The total landings of 16 million pounds fall far below the 50 million pounds scientists consider a sustainable catch.
Compared with other species, dogfish, a small coastal shark, are close to shore and easy to catch. Cod are now far offshore, as are haddock, and monkfish involves a three-day trip, hundreds of miles roundtrip in relatively small boats.
“I think it’s good anytime we can expose any amount of people to the fish we are catching. Local fish sustainably caught, is a win for the industry. The more of these we do the more demand it can create,” said Chatham fisherman Nick Muto, who is chairman of the fishermen’s alliance board of directors. The alliance hosted a luncheon with dogfish on the menu Monday at Row 34 in Boston.
Jeremy Sewall, chef and owner of Row 34, served it beer battered, a light crispy version of fish and chips, and pan-roasted, and as beignets, breaded balls, deep-fried with the flavor of smoked dogfish offset by a spicy aioli. The meat was slightly sweet, denser and more flavorful than cod. It absorbs flavor well, Sewall said, and is very forgiving when it came to cooking.
Like most Cape Cod fishermen, Muto operates in a number of fisheries. Besides catching dogfish using gillnets, Muto is a lobsterman, and pursues bluefin tuna in season. Dogfish are vital to Chatham and Cape fishermen, he said, because they are near shore and relatively easy to catch. Fishermen can rely on catching their 5,000 pound daily quota on every trip.
But they also fetch a low price. While other whitefish like cod, haddock and flounder get a dollar to three dollars a pound paid tofishermen, dogfish prices are generally less than 20 cents per pound. In part, that’s due to low domestic demand. Most of the product gets shipped overseas to European markets, but that market demand has been dropping as the younger generation turn away from fish and chips, fisherman Doug Feeney said.
Muto hopes increased domestic demand would nudge the price up to 50 cents a pound, meaning he could gross $2,500 on each 5,000 pound trip. That, he said, would help stabilize his business as other fisheries wax and wane.
“We have to go beyond what we have right now,” Feeney said. “We should be having dogfish as our fish and chips not Icelandic cod. There’s no reason we are not eating our own local, sustainable and healthy fish.”
In 2014, the fishermen’s alliance partnered with the University of New England and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on a $248,848 Saltonstall-Kennedy grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to find markets for dogfish. Jenn Levin, sustainable seafood program manager for the research institute, said they have been able to change perceptions and cultivate tastes over the past year.
“At the last event we did, we served 1,800 dogfish tacos,” Levin said. “So many people came up to our table and said they’d heard about it and (had) been wanting to try it.”
Sea to Table’s Dimin said they have been able to get large orders from institutional customers, especially universities where there is considerable interest in serving sustainable foods. He recently negotiated a large order from a vendor who brings readyto- eat meals to customers.
Alliance spokeswoman Nancy Civetta said the group is building on what it has learned from processors, buyers, sellers and marketers at the seafood shows. She said they are working to develop products, like breaded fish fillets, to attract ready-toeat customers.
“We have an underutilized fish that I believe is the future,” Feeney said. “We have this great resource. Why aren’t we doing something with it locally instead of shipping it overseas?”
— Follow Doug Fraser on Twitter:@dougfrasercct.