Seafood will not be in short supply this Saturday on the Santa Monica Pier, but you can be sure the bounty will not be of the overfished variety either.
The inaugural Off The Hook Santa Monica Seafood Festival, a seafood tasting and community awareness event on the Pier, will take place this weekend in celebration of National Seafood Month.
The event is set to bring Santa Monica chefs together to present their favorite seafood dishes, all while raising funds and awareness for the sustainable seafood movement through a partnership with the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Seafood for the Future program.
The event will feature all-you-can-eat seafood tastings, beer gardens, live music, interactive displays, cooking demos, an oyster shucking competition and educational programming, with topics such as “What is ‘Local’ Seafood?” “History of Fishing on the Pier,” “How We Can Support Local Fisherman” and “Understanding Where Your Fish Comes From.”
“We’re very excited to have Off The Hook at the Pier,” Jay Farrand, Santa Monica Pier administrator, said in a press release. “Sustainability is a critical topic and Off The Hook is a great way to bring the community together and get the discussion started on how we approach seafood more responsibly.”
And that discussion is one that Off The Hook partner Seafood for the Future has on a daily basis.
“About two-thirds of our fish stocks are fished at, or above, their sustainable capacity,” said Kim Thompson, program manager for Seafood for the Future. “So it’s very important that we are supporting the fishers and the fisheries that are using best management practices to ensure that they are having minimal impact, not only on the species so that the stocks aren’t overfished, but on the surrounding environment and ecosystem.”
Thompson said that Seafood for the Future, which will receive a portion of the proceeds from Off The Hook, will be playing an educational role at the event. The organization plans to dole out advice on how to choose sustainable seafood.
“If you’re sourcing for seafood some of the best things you can do, both on the chef and consumer side, is to first look for U.S. seafood,” she said. “U.S. seafood is some of the best-managed in the world because country-of-origin labels are actually required by law. So that is something you should be able to find relatively easily, and that’s a good way to do it.”
Thompson also recommends trying something new when choosing to order from the seafood section.
“Shrimp, tuna and salmon … are the primary seafood we consume here in the U.S., and while there are responsible options for all of these, it’s very important that we diversify and try new things so we’re not putting too much pressure on those stocks,” she said. “That also enables you to eat more local seafood and support our local fishermen because you are eating what is in season and what is available.”
Thompson said supporting businesses that work with organizations like Seafood for the Future is also important.
Restaurants participating in Off The Hook include The Lobster, Geoffrey’s Malibu, Catch, Del Frisco’s Grille, FIG Santa Monica, The Farm, Il Grano, Gladstone’s, James Beach, Bubba Gump, The Albright, Manchego, Whiskey Red’s and Rusty’s Surf Ranch. Other exhibitors include Santa Monica Seafood, the Santa Monica Aquarium, Bulletproof Coffee, Boxed Water, Gardein, The Jolly Oyster and Moet ICE.
Chef Yousef Ghalaini of FIG, who will be showing off his oyster shucking skills on Saturday, is proud to be part of an event that supports sustainable seafood, as his restaurant works to source responsibly.
“We stick to locally fished products, and stuff that’s not locally fished, like shellfish, are all coming from sustainable fisheries on the East Coast,” Ghalaini said. “We try to use fish that’s not the most popular fish. Like rock cod is one of our most popular here. We use it in a few dishes on and off and then we kind of cycle it through the year. We also like to use Oregon shrimp, which is a beautiful sustainable option. We kinda try to make sure we aren’t just serving things that are popular. We put a lot of thought into it.”
Ghalaini said that FIG also works with vendors that have great records of sustainability.
“Whenever we buy fish we also try to make sure it’s being shipped to us in the most green and eco-friendly way so we’re not leaving a huge carbon footprint,” he said.
The chef hopes that Off The Hook guests will come away from the event having learned enough that they can make better decisions next time they go out. Thompson hopes that people will come away understanding seafood’s role in the broader global food supply.
“I hope they will understand that this is a complex issue, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and that there are small steps you can take to make a big difference,” he said. “And really I want them to come away understanding that eating more of the right types of seafood is where we need to go for a healthy planet, healthy ocean, healthy fish and for people as well.”
Tickets are $60 in advance, which includes unlimited food tastings, beer, wine and champagne tastings and access to the main stage with live music and the educational pavilion.
The event will also include a Sustainable Seafood VIP Lounge, with advanced tickets at $90, which includes reserved seating and curated cocktails, beer, wine, a raw bar and chef demos.
Off The Hook will take place on the Santa Monica Pier on Saturday, Oct. 17, from 3 to 7 p.m. Tickets are available at www.offthehookseafoodfest.com.