Auburn Chef First in State to Join Sustainable Seafood Program
Auburn leads the state in fisheries research, and now, in restaurants dedicated to sustainable fishing practices.
The Depot, located downtown, is the first restaurant in Alabama to join the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious Smart Catch program, a nationwide initiate for chefs to serve responsibly-farmed and sustainably-harvested seafood.
For The Depot’s executive chef Scott Simpson, that means carefully sourcing the finfish and shellfish he serves in dishes such as Jamaican jerk swordfish steaks and pink peppercorn scallops with grapefruit-chili butter.
"This is something we were already deeply committed to, so it was only natural we participate," Simpson says. "With so many fisheries and oceans being over-fished, it’s critical that we create an active effort to educate diners and protect our fragile marine ecosystem."
As a member of the program, Simpson will receive menu consultation, training materials for his staff, guidance in working with environmentally-responsible suppliers and frequent updates from Smart Catch on the state of marine life.
The program’s sustainability criteria are based on “the health and abundance of fish and seafood stocks, the impacts of commercial fishing and harvesting on habitats and ecosystems, the degree of bycatch and the effectiveness of fishery management systems,” according to a press release from the foundation.
To qualify, The Depot had to report its volume of seafood purchased, species, country of origin and catch method for a period of three months. “Once the assessment was completed, it was reviewed by an outside consultant, who is an internationally recognized expert in seafood sustainability,” says Katherine Miller, senior director of policy and advocacy at the James Beard Foundation.
The consultant compared the restaurant’s data against seafood research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fish Stock Sustainability Index, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and Ocean Wise, a conservation organization. The Depot was the first in Alabama to pass.
“By joining the Smart Catch program, I am now creating accountability for both me and my seafood suppliers," Simpson says. "We are actively tracking where our fish comes from and how it is caught. We are publicly committing to sourcing sustainable and responsibly-harvested seafood and encouraging others to do the same. My hope is that more restaurants in Alabama will follow suit."
Simpson is required to complete an assessment every three months (four times a year) to maintain his restaurant's membership in the program.
Jami Bailey, chef liaison for Smart Catch, says Simpson's membership will help educate other chefs and restaurant diners. “The Depot is leading the way for greater sustainability of our seafood for the future,” Bailey says.