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Stateside With Rosalea: Fishy Whiff

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Fishy Whiff

"In 1973 he purchased the landmark restaurant 'Jake’s Famous Crawfish' and within the year had partnered with Doug Schmick. While growing the successful restaurant company he attended the Harvard Graduate School of Business, Executive Management Program in 1979. Today there are 56 McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants in 24 states. The company went public in July 2004 and is traded on the NASDAQ. Mr. McCormick currently serves as Chairman Emeritus."

The above quote is from the Meet the Ambassador page on the US Embassy's website, and if you do not have alarm bells ringing in your head about the buddy-buddy relationship of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rt Hon Winston Peters, and William P. McCormick, the newly appointed ambassador, then let me spell it out for you.

McCormick, with his proven track record of taking over a small, independently owned enterprise with a valuable trade name, and turning it into just one of a chain of corporately operated restaurants, is the perfect choice for turning NZ into just another soulless outpost of the US Economic Empire. And in my opinion, Peters is just the patsy to help him do it.

Here is a restaurant review about Jake's Portland eatery--the original: "Jake's has been serving Portlanders from this site since 1892. ... The bar, usually standing room only, is full of lively conversation--and often, the scent of cigars. The fresh-daily menu lists dozens of delicacies from the sea prepared dozens of ways. It's all either caught locally or flown in from around the world." A review snippet from Gourmet Magazine, posted on the McCormick and Schmick corporate website, says that on any given night you'll find 30 or so different species listed under "fresh seafood."

Hey, it's all good, right? Maybe NZ will get a leg-up on the fresh fish exporting business with this guy in town. I mean, he comes from the Michael Brown stable of presidential appointees, seemingly harmless enough. But I used to work in fisheries surveillance and although it was deep-sea fisheries I was helping to surveil, I can smell a can of worms as good as any freshwater tiddler. From several thousand miles away.

In my musings, quite by chance, Winston Peters is inextricably bound up with the whole issue of fisheries. So much so, that I erroneously remembered him as being Opposition spokesperson on the subject back in the mid-eighties when I worked for MAF. But on checking his parliamentary website, I see that's not the case.

The confusion arose because, clear as a bell, I can see myself waiting for a bus on Oriental Parade when Winnie pulled up in the beat-up old car he used to get around in back then. He was going to the dairy to get some fags. I was waiting to go to work, where I was beginning to think that the MAF folks in charge of surveillance weren't protecting NZ's interests so much as getting a mite too friendly with the Japanese, Russians, Koreans, and Americans who were trawling our waters. "Back pocket" are the words that come to mind.

Uncertain if I was just hatching a movie plot in my fevered imagination, or if I was onto something that an Opposition MP would love to get his teeth into, I debated with myself whether to walk the 10 yards over to Peters and tell him about what was going on. Nah, I'm just being paranoid, I decided. And then became twice as paranoid a couple of weeks later when my water was cut off.

Literally. Someone clambered down the embankment from the whorehouse frequented by ministers and ambassadors, which perched above where I lived on Hay Street, and sawed neatly through the polypropylene pipe that brought water to the flat I lived in. Got up to go to work and there was no water for a shower or a cup of coffee. Climbed up the hill and found the severed pipe. "Maybe it was a possum," my flatmate said. Not in the movie plot, it wasn't.

Long story short, I left the job soon after, but my MAF experience is one that truly enlightened me to the world of deep-sea fisheries. To put it bluntly, the folks that run fishing companies are cold-hearted bastards who'll refuse to allow their boats to leave a fishing ground to help with search and rescue for some other company’s boat in distress if the fish are running. It’s not like anyone in that industry doesn't know what a hard and life-threatening occupation they're in, so you'd think they might have a bit of sympathy for each other.

Then again, for all I know, they're also the sort of cunning bastards who'll send an SOS to a patsy like me in a fisheries surveillance center, just to get other boats to leave the fishing ground so they can go in there themselves to fish the multi-million dollar school another boat has found. Believe me, this is an industry where every penny you've invested in it is at stake every day, and anyone who's dealing in it or with it has to be just as hard-hearted, hard-headed and cunning as the people who actually put out to sea.

Which brings me back to Ambassador McCormick and the 30-plus species of fish flown fresh to the tables of his chain restaurants. To be fair, the sample lunch and dinner menus on the corporate website use none of the species that Seafood Watch asks consumers to avoid because of overfishing or because they are farmed using methods that are harmful to the environment.

But the review of Jake's I mentioned earlier continues: "Seared ahi is cooked rare to perfection and served with wasabi and pickled ginger. Razor clams arrive fork-tender, while Kodiak Island lingcod is dressed in a Thai curry sauce that's red-hot and delicious."

Makes your mouth water, doesn't it? Until you realise that ahi is yellowfin tuna--which the US purse seiners and Korean and Japanese longliners fish for in NZ waters--and is on Seafood Watch's Caution list because of problems with the way it is caught. If the razor clams are wild-caught rather than farmed, they too are on the Caution list. Lingcod is on the list of seafoods to avoid altogether.

But hey! Don't mind me. I just have another picture in my head of a WWII veteran of the Solomon Islands--"where we were sent to build airfields for the Yanks who couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag"--with a tray of frozen orange roughy in his hands. This was the early eighties and I was waitressing in a hotel where he was chef.

"Look at this fish!" he exclaimed, saying it was the best variety of fish he'd ever seen and praising its tastiness, cookability and plentiful availability. Pretty much unheard of up until then, by the late 1980's the orange roughy fishery was looked upon as "nothing short of a 'goldstrike' with riches not seen in a long time," in the words of Australia's CSIRO about the Tasmanian experience of the time.

According to NZ's Seafood Industry Council, orange roughy exports in the year ending December 2000 were worth $NZ 84 million. How many millions more would they be worth if the strict limits that have been set in order to manage and sustain the fishery were lifted? The answer is, if the limits had never been set in the first place, there would be no orange roughy at all.

I leave you with this interesting musing on the topic, from 1997:


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