Gulf Wild program helps diners, scientists track Gulf snapper from catch to the plate
GULF SHORES, Alabama — Order red snapper at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina, and you’ll know so much about the fish that it’s almost as if you caught it yourself.
Each snapper the restaurant serves is tagged with a tracking device that shows where it was caught — down to a 10-mile radius — and who reeled it in.
“We’ve always known as fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico that there needed to be a way to differentiate our product,” said David Krebs, president of Shareholders Alliance, the fishermen’s group that launched the Gulf Wild program. “The only way you could ever do that was give a fish a Social Security number or his own identity, his own serial number if you will.”
About a month ago, LuLu’s became the first restaurant in Alabama to buy snapper through Gulf Wild, which was launched earlier this year.
It’s the latest in the restaurant’s effort to serve food grown and harvested locally.
“Anything we can do to push our local food economy forward benefits everybody,” said Johnny Fisher, the restaurant’s general manager. “Everything we can do to put a fisherman in business, put a farmer in business has enormous benefits.”
Gulf Wild site offers diners more information about their dinner
Diners who want more details about the fish can ask their waiter for a tag, which reads “U.S. caught by responsible fishermen. Gulf Wild.” with some including the angler’s home state on one side. On the other, there’s a tracking number that diners can enter on mygulfwild.com.
The site displays the type of fish, a spot on a map of the Gulf where the fish was caught, a short bio on who caught the fish and where it was taken onto land.
Each of the 40 fishermen in the program — from Tampa to Texas — is equipped with roughly 1,000 tags per trip, Krebs said.
Along with federal testing, Gulf Wild hired an independent company out of New Orleans to check for Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals and dispersant, Krebs said.
“We are scrutinizing these fish so strongly that when you see one of those fish right now the consumer has more security in eating a Gulf fish right now than they should eating anything,” Krebs said.
Along with snapper, Gulf Wild tracks grouper and tile fish, and Krebs hopes to find a way to track all of the seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.
Krebs said the program was still in its “pilot phase,” having reached about 40 percent of the amount of fishermen needed to supply the market.
Robert Dickey, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Gulf Coast Seafood Lab on Dauphin Island, said the program also helps assure that less desirable species of fish aren’t being substituted for the higher-priced fish.
Ever since the BP oil spill last year, there’s been a push to ensure that the Gulf seafood is safe, and Gulf Coast seafood industry leaders are pushing for a coalition to help market their product.
“Hopefully we can create an overarching theme,” said Chris Nelson, vice president of Bon Secour Fisheries.
Fisher knew there was a demand for red snapper, but he was unsure how customers would react to the higher prices.
So far, though, the snapper is the second-best selling fish on the menu, behind the Mahi Mahi.
“It’s just something we’re very lucky to have in our backyard,” Fisher said.