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What the West Coast Success of Rockfish Means for Seafood Wholesalers in the San Francisco Bay Area

Pacific ocean perch are actually a type of rockfish, and can be cooked any way you would cook a mild white fish. Image source: Flickr CC user Joe

One of my greatest joys is seeing a sustainable seafood operation. I love accompanying fishermen as they catch fish using traditional methods, or visiting a fish farm to see how they’re working to make their methods more ecologically friendly. It can be tough to fish and farm seafood in a way that is gentle on the environment, and, as seafood vendors, it’s important that we celebrate the sustainability success stories—and communicate them with customers. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the greatest successes in recent history is the resurgence of rockfish.

The Return of the Rockfish

According to Seafood Watch, 84 percent of all groundfish caught along the West Coast is now considered either “best choice” or “good alternative”–the organization’s two highest rankings. Thirteen different rockfish species have now been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Back in the 1990s, overfishing and ocean-scraping trawlers devastated the West Coast’s rockfish populations. The resurgence of the rockfish population today is due to a number of factors, including reduced fishing pressure on overfished species, closures of vast swaths of ocean to trawlers, reduction in bycatch, and tight fishing quotas, coupled with careful monitoring.

What’s in a Name?

Now that rockfish have returned to markets, vendors face a new challenge: getting customers to ask for the fish by name. Rockfish is a catch-all term for any number of fish but the variety of species is vast, with names like Pacific ocean perch, chilipepper, and cowcod.

This can be confusing for consumers, but telling the stories of these fish and naming names is not only a great way to share knowledge and build rapport, but it helps increase demand and prices. That’s good for you and fishermen. And it’s why it’s important to know the story of how the rockfish rebounded and to be able to give cooking suggestions for common types of rockfish.

Ocean Perch Is Actually Rockfish

One of my favorites in the rockfish family is the Pacific Ocean Perch—POP for short. It’s a beautiful red-finned fish that’s actually not a perch at all. It lives among the rocks on sea beds from the Bering Sea to Baja. POP have a clean, mild flavor–if your customer is thinking about another mild white fish, like tilapia, you might suggest they try ocean perch for a change. A big selling point is this fish’s ease of cooking. Saute them in butter on the stove or bake them with fresh dill, white wine, and sliced shallots. They’re great with a light breading, too.

These fish can live as long as 100 years and only reach reproductive age at 10. Fortunately, the measures fishermen and regulators put in place mean POP should be a healthy, sustainable choice for years to come.

Yellowtail Rockfish Is Local and Sustainable

Like the Pacific ocean perch and all rockfish, the yellowtail is slow to mature, putting it at risk of overfishing. But instead of potentially destructive trawlers, handlines and large mesh trawlers are used to catch the fish, all but eliminating bycatch and overfishing and ensuring this fish will be around years to come. The large mesh nets allow non-target and younger rockfish to escape; these are very positive changes that fishermen now employ to keep the fishery healthy. This is a great story to share with customers, especially those looking for sustainable seafood.

When it comes to locally-caught fish, we know a lot of Bay Area customers gravitate to salmon because it’s familiar and (sometimes) sourced locally, but the availability of local salmon isn’t what it used to be because of limited commercial seasons. The yellowtail rockfish, though, is caught in the waters around the San Francisco Bay, making it the perfect choice for anyone looking for a versatile, local, and sustainable fish.

The mild flesh of yellowtail rockfish is too delicate for grilling but great for baking, steaming, and sautéing. This is the fish to recommend for customers looking for a classic pan-fry with a little lemon, wine, and butter or baked in parchment paper with garlic, capers, and thyme. Yellowtail rockfish works well in DIY sushi and ceviche, when bought very fresh.

A good way to make customers who are unfamiliar with yellowtail rockfish more comfortable is to point out the similarity between this fish’s taste and that of red snapper. Yellowtail rockfish is sometimes even sold in restaurants and elsewhere labeled as red snapper, which is in high demand and is more expensive. Any Bay Area customer looking for red snapper should know that an affordable and local alternative is also available.

Pucci Foods wants to help you educate customers about sustainable and local species, and to encourage customers to try species that are unfamiliar to them. That starts with being able to tell a story about your fish. That’s where Pucci comes in. We offer wholesale, sustainable seafood of all kinds that you can be proud to offer customers. To order wholesale rockfish or another sustainable fish species contact us; we’d be happy to help.

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