At the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Mark Hayes, director for dining and hospitality services, and Russell Saunkeah, executive chef, take sustainability of the dining hall services - from paper to protein - seriously.
"To hold up, maintain, support, or endure, sustainability is one of the core values at UCCS dining hall services," according to the university's website. "We are committed to making well-thought out, strategic choices in our purchasing and operational decision-making with the goal of not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."
As part of upholding this commitment, they buy seafood from Sea to Table, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company that brings wild, fresh-caught seafood - cleaned, flash frozen and ready to cook - right to the school's door.
At the "Sea to Shining Sea" sustainable seafood event organized by UCCS' dining services on Dec. 1, Michael Dimin, owner of Sea to Table, was a guest speaker. He talked about the importance of getting to know some of the lesser-used seafood that will help sustain the fishing industry. These "by-catch fish" are purchased and used by restaurants near fisheries.
"Because the fishermen connect with the chefs, and vice versa, the by-catch fish are used more than the top 10 seafood, which are more available from companies like Northeast Seafood and Seattle," he said. "Our company makes a point of educating chefs elsewhere about some of these less-familiar species."
Hayes has heeded the call.
"We have served both lingcod and dogfish on the menus at Roaring Fork and The Lodge," he said. "These are lesser-known fish that have excellent flavor."
To help customers learn about the fish, the UCCS dining hall staff displays information cards when unfamiliar fish are on the food line. Some of these fish have similar textures and flavors to seafood more commonly available like salmon, lobster and shrimp - or even other proteins like chicken.
"Dogfish is a great example," says Lacie Richardson, owner of Southern Alaska Seafood and Wild Woman Fish Co., who sells fish in Colorado Springs. "It's so incredibly abundant and tastes like chicken, yet no one really knows about it. Fisheries don't target it mainly because there isn't currently a market. They are literally everywhere in numbers."
Rockfish is another example.
"I call it Alaskan lobster," Richardson said. "It's delicious. It's a white, firm, flaky, mild white fish that tastes similar to halibut. I offered a few recipes and tips and sold the heck out of them. I moved over a 1,000 pounds in a few months. They are super affordable, like $18 a pound compared to halibut, which can run $30 a pound."
She's had the same success with butterfish and Alaskan sablefish.
"Once customers try these fish, they are less intimidated and get in line for more," she said. "I have a ton of people on back order for it."
Kathy Anderson, a personal chef and former fishmonger at Safeway, is always on the lookout for new species of fish.
"When I'm on the East Coast, I go to a place called Safe Harbor in Jacksonville, Fla.," she said. "I try new fish every visit that I know are by-catch (like) triggerfish and golden tilefish."
Keep an eye out for some of these lesser-known fish. At the UCCS program, we learned that sea trout and char are good substitutes for salmon. Use monkfish instead of lobster.
"What I always shared with my customers at Safeway was, know your fishmonger," Anderson said. "Be an informed consumer. Rely on noted environmental and sustainability experts such as the Marine Stewardship Council and the Monterey (Bay) Aquarium/Seafood Watch."
Visit seafoodwatch.org for more information about sustainable fish selections.
Although not commonly found at supermarkets, always ask about the lesser-known fish. The fishmonger may be able to get them for you.
Touch bases with Richardson at southernalaskaseafood.com. And you can also dine at one of the food halls at UCCS, which are open to the public and where lesser-known fish are a regular part of the food lineup with additional information about the fish being featured.