Every so often a hidden delicacy makes its way onto menus and into the hearts of seafood lovers, providing an exciting item in addition to the traditional favorites. This occasional emergence of a previously unknown item allows seafood distributors to expand their market and restaurants to experiment with their culinary expertise to satiate hungry diners.
One such up-and-coming item has been turning heads and winning admirers in high-end restaurants – the sablefish, or black cod. This delectable little finfish doesn’t look like anything special, with grey-black drab scales and no distinct characteristics. Yet every bite of a well-prepared fillet yields a tremendous amount of flavor, buttery texture, and healthy nutrition. Perhaps the best part about the sablefish – they are harvested with ocean-friendly methods that assure the fishery will remain sustainable. The number of diners with a taste for black cod is on the rise, making it an excellent choice for restaurants looking to provide a popular seafood item with a sustainable tag.
The consumer demand
The undisputed adoration of salmon is a testament to how much consumers enjoy flavorful, healthy fish. The black cod offers consumers something different- a white fillet with large, buttery flakes gives an exciting alternative to other white fish. The oily content lends itself particularly well to smoking and grilling, cooking methods that diners are partial to. A love for black cod sushi has been emerging as well, as the velvety texture and strong flavor can be enjoyed raw just as much as cooked.
Black cod from Alaska are considered to be of higher quality than those of the West Coast, as they grow larger and have a greater oil content. Their EPA and DHA omega-3 content is on par with that of wild salmon, making black cod an excellent option for health-conscious consumers. This oil content is what lends to the luxurious texture which sparked the nickname “butterfish”. It is important to note that the black cod is not actually a true cod, rather it simply resembles cod in body shape.
Last year generated a beautiful blend of price versus quality for the black cod market as the average wavered a little between $6-$7 per pound. Such a high quality fish at such a reasonable price was a killer deal and restaurants ate up the results, developing a fan base for the seafood option. As will all things in high demand, we can likely expect the price to be somewhat higher this year.
Sustainability emerges from a rocky history
Even thought the black cod might be a new star in the seafood world, fishermen have been harvesting it for over 100 years. With the growth of fishing technology in the form of gear and ships, foreign fleets began invading the waters around Alaska and depleted the black cod population by the 1970s. Fortunately, during this decade the United States took back control of our waters and chased out foreign fishermen. The next 20 years marked increasing regulations on the black cod fishery until finally, in 1995, managers implemented an individual fishing quota (IFQ) program for the Alaska and West Coast commercial fisheries.
The foundation for an IFQ program is a perfect model for sustainability – it allocates a set quota of the allowed yearly harvest to individual fishermen. This decreases competition amongst fishing vessels and allows flexibility to harvest the quota over a longer season. Fishermen can choose to deploy during safer weather. This system also protects the sablefish population, as it limits the number of fish that can be caught. Fewer young fish are taken, allowing them to mature and reproduce, contributing to the growth of the population. This excellent management – along with the incredible flavor – has made the black cod the most highly valued finfish per pound in all Alaska fisheries.
Typically black cod are caught using bottom longlines, trawls, and traps. When possible, trap-caught black cod are an excellent choice in terms of sustainability. As the fish pots and traps sit on the seafloor, they cause very little habitat destruction and bycatch is extremely low.
The smarter consumer chooses sustainable
As consumers have continuously growing access to information through technology, they become increasingly aware of the source of their food items – especially seafood. Smartphone apps, such as Seafood Watch, allow diners to have the latest seafood recommendations at their fingertips. Sustainability has (much to the excitement of ocean conservationists) become a hot issue when it comes to seafood and restaurants have been catering to the consumer demand for ocean-friendly items. They will love the culinary pleasure of the black cod and a rising number of diners will be choosing it over unsustainable options. Buy your wholesale black cod from distributors that carry a certification in sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council, such as Pucci Foods.