It’s an environmental idea that has taken off in recent decades. You can’t help an ecosystem if you don’t also account for the humans who rely on it. A new Portland-based company called Gulf of Maine Sashimi exemplifies the point. In order to help the ocean’s threatened fish populations, it works to help the fisherman, too.

“These fish are simply beautiful!” says a distributor who has been selling Gulf of Maine Sashimi fish to chefs in New York. Seen here: haddock. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

To that end, a handful of Gulf of Maine fishermen supply the wholesale operation with fish species such as Acadian Redfish, flounder, Atlantic mackerel, haddock and white hake. The company’s niche is to wholesale pristine versions of these normally less valuable and more populous fish, so they can fetch better prices than they otherwise would. Then it passes along the extra revenue to the fishermen.

To ensure their catch makes the grade, the fishermen who sell whole fish to Gulf of Maine Sashimi employ two important measures: First, they use a Japanese technique for killing fish at sea called ike jime. A spike inserted quickly and directly into a fish’s hindbrain kills it instantly. Next, they submerge the fish in a slurry of seawater and ice to quickly bring its temperature to just above freezing and keep it there.

These measures combine to stem the flow of adrenaline, lactic acid and blood into the flesh of the fish, Gulf of Maine Sashimi CEO Jen Levin said, which preserves its pristine quality, improves its taste and increases its shelf life. The careful handling also ensures that the fish are not battered and bruised in sea transit, she said.

“These fish are simply beautiful! The flesh is as translucent as glass,” said Hunter Stagg, a former executive chef who now works for Samuels & Son Seafood, a Philadelphia-based distributor that has been selling Gulf of Maine Sashimi whole fish into New York restaurants.

Gulf of Maine Sashimi is a for-profit spinoff of the nonprofit Gulf of Maine Research Institute. The name comes from a traditional Japanese preparation for raw fish. Because the fish is served raw and unadorned, it must be of the very highest quality. For a growing number of chefs, the word sashimi has also come to connote extremely high-quality fish, even if they plan to serve it cooked.

The meticulous care at Gulf of Maine Sashimi continues after the fish are brought to shore. The fish are eviscerated at the company’s facility on Holyoke Wharf in Portland. The fish cavities are stuffed with linen and the fish wrapped in a special antimicrobial paper typically used in the Japanese tuna trade. Delivery is carefully tracked to maintain the fish quality and temperature. In its few months of existence, the company has sold fish to local chefs, such as Matt Ginn of Evo Kitchen + Bar and Neil Ross of Little Giant Restaurant in Portland, as well as bigger markets along the Eastern Seaboard.

For chefs who want menu items with good back stories and sustainably sourced ingredients, “This is a love story that actually does some real good,” Stagg said. “It supports fishermen who are willing to adopt practices that both preserve quality and tap fish stocks that aren’t in danger of being depleted.”

Stagg said that a number of chefs who work in acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud’s international restaurant empire have been asking him for Gulf of Maine’s Sashimi product line, which they learned about through word of mouth. “When you’re fielding calls from Boulud’s chefs clamoring for a product, you know you’ve got something good,” he said.

Levin said because the quality is so high, Gulf of Maine Sashimi can sell whole fish wholesale at a 20 percent to 400 percent premium over auction prices. Recent prices for Acadian Redfish at auction hovered around 60 cents per pound, for example. “We guarantee fishermen $2 per pound,” Levin said.

Levin takes the company’s sustainability mission seriously. Last year, fisherman landed just 50 percent of the allowable redfish quota and 9 percent of the allowable pollock quota. That is a big lost opportunity, she said. Likewise, if fishermen had earned food-grade prices (as opposed to bait prices) for just 20 percent of 2017 mackerel landings, they would have made a collective additional $1.5 million, she said.

While her focus is to bring top-quality whole fish to market, Levin means no disrespect to any other seafood harvested here.

“Maine fishermen have successfully supplied great fish locally for a very long time. And fish eaters here know that,” she said. She hopes that offering high-caliber, underused fish to a wider audience is a means to help raise the tide for all fishing boats.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige skins a haddock fillet from Gulf of Maine Sashimi. The new Portland-based company mostly sells fish wholesale. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Broiled Haddock with Spinach-Parmesan Crust

This recipe comes from Freeport-based sustainable seafood expert Barton Seaver’s recently released “The Joy of Seafood: The All-Purpose Seafood Cookbook with more than 900 Recipes.” The recipe calls for haddock, but Seaver says any white flaky fish – like cod, hake, pollock – will work. Jen Levin says Gulf of Maine Sashimi fish is sometimes sold at Veranda Market and she hopes to be selling it at Harbor Fish Market soon.

Serves 4

4 ( 4- to 5-ounce) skinless haddock fillets

Salt

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons cooked, drained, and chopped spinach

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 garlic cloves, grated

1 lemon, juiced

Season the fish with salt and let it rest for 15 minutes. Preheat the broiler to high and set the rack in the position closest to the heat.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, spinach, cheese, garlic and lemon juice. Place the fish on a baking tray. Spread the mayonnaise mixture evenly over the fish. Slide the tray under the broiler. Broil until the fish is done and the topping is browned, 7-10 minutes.


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