Barnacles are making their way into the mainstream. Photo credit: Ha’oom Wild Seafood.
The first time I tried gooseneck barnacles they struck me as the illegitimate love child of calamari, oysters, and those Gushers fruit snacks every kid in the ’90s had in their lunchbox. They weren’t bad; I just wasn’t quite sure what to make of them as food, especially since — as a young girl growing up on the B.C. coast— they were always more of a tidal pool curiosity than a fine dining option.
Little did I ever expect that a year after this culinary experience, I’d find myself assessing the sustainability of the gooseneck barnacle fishery for my first assignment as a research analyst with Ocean Wise, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre conservation program for sustainable seafood across Canada. I joined the Ocean Wise team in December 2014 with the primary responsibility of completing seafood assessments for a variety of local, small-scale fisheries.
To put this task in perspective, my past fisheries life involved working with Pacific Ocean tuna fisheries, some of the largest and most pervasive fishing operations in the world today. Each year these fisheries supply more than three million tonnes of tuna — worth upward of five billion dollars— to the global market. Compare this to the gooseneck barnacle fishery, which employs about half a dozen fishers who harvest less than 4,000 kilograms per year. Talk about comparing apples to oranges! (Or fish to crustaceans?)
As can be imagined, the last few months have come as a wonderful opportunity for me to learn about the importance of one of many small-scale fisheries in Canada, and the species upon which it depends. The gooseneck barnacle assessment, along with others to come, is part of a new Ocean Wise initiative to focus on Canadian fisheries and to supplement the assessments conducted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program which forms the basis of all our recommendations. In this regard, I hope my work can identify previously unknown local seafood options and ultimately recommend them to chefs and diners.
Not only can this expand the local food culture across the country, but hopefully it will also encourage seafood consumers to appreciate the many species we have in our three oceans and many freshwater systems. With more options, this should enable chefs to source more locally and diversely, and enable the many seafood foodies in our country to satisfy their culinary curiosity in a sustainable manner. These assessments have been made possible with support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Which, luckily for me, means I have Mickey by my side every day as I work.
As a way of saying thanks, I recently took him to dinner at Blue Water Café so we could try some of the items on their Unsung Heroes menu. This annual culinary initiative features marine species that are under-utilized in North America, with an emphasis on local products. And, probably as a result of my newfound respect for gooseneck barnacle harvesters as well as a newfound appreciation of the barnacles themselves, the second time I tried them, I loved them. As for the assessment results: my draft still has to undergo additional stages of review before we can release a final recommendation. But hopefully, it can be finalized within the next few months.
Blog post submitted by Laurenne Schiller, Ocean Wise research analyst at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.