By Rebecca Gardon
SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 24, 2018—Catalina Offshore Products has been awarded $139,700 under the 2018 National Marine Fisheries Service’s Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program for a project to grow demand for opah and other underutilized and undervalued species. Its proposal, A Culinary Engineering Approach to Increasing the Value of Local Fisheries: Reducing Fish Discards at Sea and Promoting Full Utilization, was envisioned as scalable to the national level and is based on a year-long project that may help to increase revenue to local fleets and provide consumers with a greater range of locally sourced seafood.
Two objectives underscore the project’s culinary engineering approach. The first and primary objective is to broaden the appeal of opah, such that all edible portions the fish are utilized. The second is to develop new culinary markets for species being discarded by U.S. Pacific Highly Migratory Species (HMS) fisheries landing their catch in southern California.
Opah (Lampris spp.), or “moonfish,” are a closely related group of six large pelagic fish species found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters, two of which (smalleye Pacific opah, L. incognitus, and bigeye Pacific opah, L. megalopsis) occur seasonally off the coasts of California and Mexico. Historically elusive, Pacific opah are a secondary target in west coast commercial fisheries and have been showing up more frequently in recent years. Fish are about the size of a car tire and can weigh up to 200 pounds, yet a considerable portion is typically discarded. This reduces profitability to fishermen and deprives U.S. consumers of additional sources of responsibly harvested domestic seafood.
Catalina Offshore has pioneered a full utilization approach to opah by identifying seven distinct types of meat. These portions of the opah, each with a unique color, flavor and texture profile, allow for a wider range of culinary applications. This differs from most other species, in which flavor, texture and color tend to be the same throughout the fish.
“People tend to eat what they’re familiar with,” notes the company’s fishmonger, Tommy Gomes, “We’re trying to get them to look beyond the standard fillet. You wouldn’t harvest a pig just to make bacon. Fish should be approached the same way.”
Several partners join Catalina Offshore on this project, including celebrated local chefs, fishermen dedicated to sustainable fishing practices, retired NOAA Fisheries administrator turned sustainable seafood consultant, and scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) and Wildlife Computers. Hoping to gain a better understanding of the opah’s basic biology and ecology, SWFSC began collecting samples from opah in 2009 and initiated an electronic tagging program in 2011. Culinary aspects will draw from the imaginations of chefs Rob Ruiz, Davin Waite and Jason McLeod, known for their innovation, zero waste practices, and commitment to using responsibly sourced seafood.
Work will consist of data collection, roundtables with fishermen and consumers, kitchen workshops, recipe development, culinary demonstrations, and an “Ocean to Table” finale event. During this public showcase, project outcomes will be presented along with a suite of dishes highlighting different culinary applications for opah, as well as other HMS species currently being discarded but identified through research as having market potential.
“We’re fortunate to have such passionate and esteemed individuals lending their expertise to our culinary engineering project,” says Catalina Offshore owner, Dave Rudie. “This collaboration will allow us to build on our experience working with opah, and further develop market demand for undervalued and underutilized species. We hope our efforts will benefit our local fisheries, increase the viability of our working waterfronts, and illustrate the value of not only fishing sustainably, but eating sustainably.”
For more information on Catalina Offshore Products, call 619-297-9797 or visit catalinaop.com.
About Catalina Offshore Products
Founded in 1977, Catalina Offshore Products was once exclusively a sea urchin/uni wholesaler in both domestic sales and exports to Asia. Today Catalina Offshore Products is one of the largest buyers of local seafood in San Diego, specializing in wild species found off the West Coast, from Baja California to the Pacific Northwest. It encompasses a wholesale division, online store and walk-in fish market. Nearly 75 percent of the seafood Catalina Offshore Products sells is sustainable and much of it is sushi grade. For more information, visit catalinaop.com.
Rebecca Gardon Sarah Mesnick, Ph.D.
Catalina Offshore Products Southwest Fisheries Science Center
Marketing Manager Communications
Ph: (619) 704-3603 Ph: (858) 546-7148
Additional Links and Resources
Watch Tommy Gomes break down a massive whole opah, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aehXWMMq1w
Mark Helvey, Sustainable Seafood Consultants, LLC
Sarah Mesnick, Oriana Poindexter and Heidi Dewar, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries, https://swfsc.noaa.gov/
Suzy Kohin, Wildlife Computers, https://wildlifecomputers.com/
Rob Ruiz, Chef / Owner, Land and Water Company, https://www.landandwaterco.com/
Davin Waite, Chef / Owner, Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub, http://www.seabasstropub.com/
Jason McLeod, Chef / Owner, Ironside Fish & Oyster, https://ironsidefishandoyster.com/
Fishermen, Captain John Hall, California Pelagic Fisheries Association and Kelly Fukushima, F/V Three Boys