Man on a Mission

Jeff Corwin and 100 Heartbeats

Chef Robert Wiedmaier, Jeff Corwin and Prime Seafood’s Jim Chambers
Chef Robert Wiedmaier, Jeff Corwin and Prime Seafood’s Jim Chambers

Setting the stage for extinction: every twenty minutes a distinct species of plant or animal becomes extinct.

There is an aura surrounding Jeff Corwin. It is the peaceful intent of a man who has witnessed fierce struggle, mortal threats, man’s inhumanity, heart-pounding danger and crushing heartbreak and emerged to dedicate his life to saving the planet’s rare and endangered species. This is not your son or daughter’s jocular Animal Planet guide tiptoeing through the friendly jungles with weird and eclectic animals, nor the boyish rake abandoning all sensibility to get just a bit too close to an unpredictable viper. This is a man committed through thought, word and deed to altering the predicted fate of our planet’s endangered animals. In my encounter with Corwin I could read the intensity and conviction on his face as he spoke of his up-close-and-personal encounters with the cheetahs and white rhinos whose days appear numbered.

“100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species” is Corwin’s paean to the animals. He has found a powerful voice after 15 years of television as an Emmy-award winning producer and host of over a dozen television series for Discovery, Disney, the Food Network, NBC, CNN and the Travel Channel. To supplement the book’s release is a two-hour television special, the second installment in MSNBC’s epic “Future Earth” series, set to launch this week on Nov. 22.

In honor of sustainability the book launch at the Occidental Grill showcased a number of wines that foster sustainable and environmentally responsible practices: Naked by Snoqualmie vineyards, Saint Michelle and Yealands of New Zealand, to which noted D.C. Chef Robert Wiedmaier gave a nod for their sauvignon blanc. Wild-caught Coho salmon, wild Georgia white shrimp from Prime Seafood, and heritage beef and turkey from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA became luscious hors d’oeuvres in the creative hands of Chefs Rodney Scruggs and Robert Townsend.

I had an opportunity to speak with Jim Chambers, manager and owner of Prime Seafood of Kensington, MD, who as a marine biologist spent 20 years with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). While on the board of the Marine Stewardship Council he was instrumental in setting up the standards for the industry. Jim is the only wholesaler in our area selling exclusively sustainably raised seafood to select local restaurants. Poste, 701, Proof, Johnny’s Half Shell, Corduroy, Firefly, Restaurant Nora, Cashion’s Eat Place and the Occidental Grill and Seafood are some of his D.C. clientele.

From April through December he sells wreckfish — similar in flavor and texture to grouper — made sustainable through controlled fishing. Only four boats are licensed to capture these fish off the coast of Charleston, SC in deep water at the base of a “wrecked” submarine wall.

Chambers really enjoys way the fish is being prepared sous-vide at Blue Duck Tavern. “They cook it low and slow in a vacuum-sealed pouch and finish it off with a quick browning. It’s so delicious…tender and succulent,” he said.

Science Magazine recently reported that, if we keep destroying habitat, the world’s fisheries will collapse by 2048. “With unrestrained overfishing we are racing pell-mell towards the destruction of our seas. We now catch the top predators, bottom predators and everything in between with massive fishing trawlers equipped with huge drag nets and sophisticated electronics such as sonar and GPS,” Chambers warned. “We are fast working our way through what is left.”

We talked about the interdependency of the species…how the little fish sustain the bigger fish and how bottom-dragging nets take out 100 percent of the herring, leaving the predator tuna without sustenance and faced with extinction, along with their tiny friends.

Our conversation then turned to the darker side of farm-raised fisheries. A recent study compared the contaminant load of farm-raised, Chilean and Scottish salmon sold in US supermarkets. All of them rated poorly.

“Fish are fed with other fish containing PCBs, DDT, and other organic toxic compounds. In fact only one meal per month of farm-raised salmon, often misleadingly labeled organic, poses a substantial cancer threat to the consumer. They receive growth hormones to make them grow faster while being constantly doused with chemicals to keep the disease level manageably low,” he related.

“You’re creating a sewer in the water where they are being raised. And the parasites, like sea lice, that live on the outside of the nets are getting to the salmon in the net pens where they are being fed dyes to achieve the proper color,” Chambers told me.

This is the tragic underbelly of the fishing industry and a real eye-opener. “It takes about four pounds of juvenile species of wild fish to make one pound of farm-raised salmon. It’s totally unsustainable.”

Chambers takes heart with the appointment of NOAA’s new administrator, Jane Lubchenco, who is also in charge of the NMFS. As one of the most highly cited ecologists in the world, Lubchenco is considered a world expert on marine eco-systems.

Chambers suggests that, “Consumers and chefs in particular can become the solution by what they choose to eat and serve.” With the Blue Ocean Institute’s “Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood,” which will be my new seafood-buying bible, he hopes that those who enjoy fish will make better and more informed choices.

Get more information on the Future Earth series at futureearth.msnbc.com.

Jordan Wright can be reached at Jordan@whiskandquill.com.

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Sun, 20 Apr 2014 22:00:58 -0400

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