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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Swordfish Restaurant Boycott

Air Date: Week of August 14, 1998

Swordfish isn’t on of the menu where it usually is. Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston is one of more than 25 restaurants along the East Coast and Texas that are taking swordfish off their menus for the next year. Chef Hamersley says it’s an effort to restore the fish whose stocks in the North Atlantic have dropped close to commercial extinction. Steve Curwood reports from the kitchen of one of Boston's finest bistros, which has joined the boycott.

Transcript

CURWOOD: So can I ask you what you're making here?

HAMERSLEY: Yeah. Making a kind of a combo, seafood combo plate with salmon and scallops. And we're going to put a little lentils and some other vegetables, a little salsa pea and some carrots with it, and serve it with a nice green salad.

CURWOOD: In the kitchen of Hamersley's Bistro, an upscale eatery located in Boston's South End, chef and owner Gordon Hamersley is preparing an array of seafood dishes for his hungry clientele. But swordfish isn't on the menu here. Hamersley's Bistro is one of more than 200 restaurants along the East Coast and Texas that aren't offering swordfish for now. Chef Hamersley says it's an effort to help restore the fish. Swordfish stocks in the North Atlantic, he says, have dropped close to commercial extinction.

HAMERSLEY: We're giving swordfish a rest, if you will, a chance to come back in the kind of numbers and the kind of poundage that they have been known in the past for.

CURWOOD: Are you telling your customers that you're not serving swordfish for this reason?

HAMERSLEY: When they ask, yeah. And many times we don't serve swordfish on our menus and people don't ask. But when they ask, "Gee, where's the swordfish?" or "I thought you had swordfish on this particular menu," I'll definitely tell them why. And this is one way that a very small person like myself can make the dining public aware of the fact that certain species are in danger sometimes.

CURWOOD: Swordfish aren't the only fish in trouble. Have you taken other fish off your menu as well?

HAMERSLEY: I have, actually. We don't serve wild striped bass in this restaurant. We serve a different version. We serve a farm-raised striped bass. And the reason is that even though it's available to me, I think that the stocks are such that they need to be rested even more than the government says so. It was very clear about 10 years ago that the striped bass was considered practically extinct in Massachusetts waters, and today sport fishermen are reporting record numbers of catches as well. I think it's somewhere 500,000 and 700,000 pounds of striped bass can be harvested by the commercial fishermen. So, you know, with a little bit of conservation, a little bit of planning, we can bring a species back without any problem.

CURWOOD: Did somebody ask you to take swordfish off your menu for a year? Or was this your own idea?

HAMERSLEY: This was not my own idea. A fax was sent probably to thousands of restauranteurs around the country, making us aware of what some of the problems were and what some of the facts were with regard to swordfish. There are very few of us in this industry who are not aware of the northeast fishing problems. I think we've been negligent sometimes in our past of over-fishing. We need to have a policy of conservation, so that the fishermen are able to continue to do well, as well as the public being able to enjoy this incredible resource that we have here.

CURWOOD: What's the proportion of people who come to eat fish versus other parts of your menu here?

HAMERSLEY: Interestingly, it's beginning to change. Five years ago, I would have said that meat sales outdid fish sales a solid 2 to 1. Today it is about 50-50. And I think that the reason for that is twofold. First of all, I think I cook fish better today than I did numbers of years ago. I work on it harder. I think that people are more aware of the health benefits of eating fish and want to try to do the most they can to put good things into their bodies.

CURWOOD: So this loss of swordfish from your menu is not just a casual thing that you're doing.

HAMERSLEY: I don't think it's a casual thing at all. New England is a place that was made a famous place because of the fishing industry. It is sadly depleted now. And I just hope, as a restauranteur and as a chef and as a cook that I'm able to continue to serve wild fish in the future. And I think that having a sense of conservation about fish is an important part of that.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us.

HAMERSLEY: It's a pleasure. Thanks for coming in.

CURWOOD: Chef Gordon Hamersley owns and operates Hamersley's Bistro in the South End of Boston, Massachusetts.

(Sizzling and the sounds of pots and pans continue)

CURWOOD: One thing that radio cannot convey is the sense of smell, and whoooo! does it smell good here!

 

 

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