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Feasting On "Trash Fish" For Sustainability

Wolf eel is one of the "trash fish" on the menu for a sustainable food fundraiser in Portland Nov. 10.
Wolf eel is one of the "trash fish" on the menu for a sustainable food fundraiser in Portland Nov. 10.

When commercial fishermen go out to catch salmon, halibut or black cod, they also bring in some other, lesser-known species.

Wolf eel, sand dab, and skate wing can be delicious, too. But they’re usually thrown out because nobody wants to buy them. Hence, these “trash fish” get wasted even though they could be served on a white tablecloth and paired with wine.

A Trash Fish Supper in Portland Nov. 10 is designed to show people why we should think twice before tossing out these trash fish while raising money for a sustainable seafood program called .

Four Portland chefs will prepare dishes using wolf eel, sanddab, skate wing, yellowtail rockfish and ivory salmon, a type of salmon that is white instead of pink.

“We are in the process of fishing out our favorites,” said event organizer Amanda Osborne. “ People always order salmon or halibut or things they're familiar with. But there's stuff fishermen will catch that they don't intend to catch and for which there's no market. The idea is to do something delicious with species that they've never heard of before.”

Cathy Whims of the Portland restaurants Nostrana and Oven & Shaker will prepare Pacific skate wing in a Roman-style stew with romanesco. Skates have been overfished in the Atlantic ocean, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but in the Pacific they are bycatch in hook-and-line fisheries.

Kelly Myers of Xico will serve the crazy-looking wolf eel with mole. Wolf eel aren’t targeted by fishermen but they’re often caught in crab and fish traps. They often get thrown out because there aren’t a lot of people who want to buy them. Maybe because they’re ugly? Their populations are apparently stable.

Kevin Gibson of the restaurant Evoe is cooking up sand dabs, which are caught by trawlers on the seafloor.

And PJ Yang of Bamboo Sushi will serve ivory salmon, which are often thrown away because their flesh is white and doesn’t look like salmon.

Lyf Gildersleeve, owner of Flying Fish Co. in Portland, was in charge of finding the fish for the supper – before they got trashed. It wasn't so easy.

“It’s pretty rare for the species we’re after to make it to any marketplace – for somebody to keep it as opposed to just throwing it out," he said. "Not many people have a freezer full of wolf eel. And then, if we find it, is it going to be the quality of a $100 a plate dinner?"

Gildersleeve said eating these under-appreciated species could relieve pressure on the more popular species, while paying fishermen for their full load of fish – rather than just the more expensive species.

“We’re always after the highest species – the tuna, the salmon,” he said. “I think having broader marketability is going to be key to the long-term sustainability of the ocean.”

-- Cassandra Profita

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