By James Wright
When it comes to sourcing sustainable seafood, lots of buyers can talk the talk (their suppliers certainly can). Environmental awareness is a growing consumer trend and retailers and restaurants with green philosophies can sell themselves to like-minded shoppers and diners. But The Oceanaire Seafood Room took its sustainability commitment to another level recently by purchasing an entire boatload of Alaska king crab harvested by one of the "Deadliest Catch" skippers.
Wade Wiestling, VP of culinary development, says the Minneapolis-based company has never made such a bold purchase, in terms of either size or statement. One trip's worth of Bering Sea king crabs trapped by the Time Bandit — approximately 40,000 pounds of frozen clusters after processing — will begin arriving by the end of the week and will supply the 14-unit chain with king crab through the holidays.
"We've never committed to one product like this. And with the popularity of that product and the Discovery Channel show, it gives us remarkable marketing tie-ins," admits Wiestling, who's been with the company since its inception in 1999. "But we did it mainly for the quality of the crab and the familiarity with the crew."
The idea was born this fall when Wiestling took three of his chefs to Dutch Harbor for the Crab Connoisseur trip sponsored by The Crab Broker of Las Vegas, which arranged the unique sale. Wiestling, who says Oceanaire has purchased Russian crabs in the past, is aware of the illegal-fishing concerns surrounding imported Russian king crabs. Meeting the Time Bandit crew and seeing firsthand what they did at sea gave Wiestling a new perspective on buying Alaska seafood.
"It made sense from a marketing and sustainability standpoint to 'bite off more than we can chew' with Alaska crab, because it is an important fishery and it's a limited harvesting season," says Wiestling. "We knew the quality and the way it was processed would be a great story for our staff on the floor. Seemed like the right thing to do."