Renowned chef Rick Moonen is an advocate and big believer in sustainable seafood farming. He is also the founding member of the Seafood Choices Alliance and recently partnered as a brand ambassador with True North Salmon who is “committed to being at the forefront of sustainable seafood practices.” True North Salmon farms Atlantic Salmon, which is harvested daily. They partnered “with world-renowned university scientists to incorporate groundbreaking Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) systems into their operations. IMTA creates balanced eco-systems by growing mussels and seaweed alongside the salmon.” (True North Salmon)
Rick was kind enough to join me for an interview earlier this week to discuss the importance of sustainable seafood farming, whether or not there is a taste difference between wild salmon and farm raised salmon, the difference in health benefits, his recent partnership with True North Salmon and much more!
Candace Rose: You recently partnered with True North Salmon as a brand ambassador. Can you tell us about your partnership and what made you select them?
Rick Moonen: “True North Salmon is in the forefront and they’re committed to being the forefront of sustainable seafood practices. We need to make sure that salmon is available for generations to come. I’ve aligned myself as a spokesperson for this company. They’re making positive environmental strides in the agricultural industry. That’s just super important to me- that the ingredients that I use are produced with integrity. I’m hoping that I can influence a positive movement in the industry by supporting this company. They’ve made gigantic strides. I served farm raised Atlantic salmon on my menu years ago, stopped serving them, but now they’re being produced in a manner that’s so sustainable it’s time to recognize it.”
Candace Rose: For those who aren’t aware, what is sustainable seafood farming and what does it mean?
Rick Moonen: “Sustainable seafood farming is basically farming in a manner that’s not hurting the environment in which you’re farming or having a negative affect on the product in which you’re raising. If you overcrowd a bunch of fish into a small pen, small net out in the open ocean, there’s a lot of opportunity for imbalances. But, True North is a brand that has taken how they farm their fish very seriously, low density where they locate their farms is in the Gulf of Maine deep water the tidal changes 30 feet twice daily, so there’s a real cleansing flushing activity that goes on there.
They have what they call IMTA systems which is Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture. What that means is next to the salmon farms they’re growing mussels; next to the mussels they’re growing kelp farms; next are seaweed farms. They all work together to create a much more balanced ecosystem, which is so much more responsible. Because at the end of the day the health and the quality of the product that you grow depend directly on the health of the environment in which they grow. So clean water equals an environment where there’s less stress and you mirror their natural lifecycle. You’re going to end up with a great product…and that’s just what True North is doing and I’m excited about it as a chef.”
Candace Rose: I’m sure this is a common question people ask- is there a difference in taste between wild caught salmon and one that is farm raised?
Rick Moonen: “There’s definitely a difference in flavor, but they’re both great. It’s like trying to choose your favorite citrus. They’re all sweet and wonderful, but do you like an orange over a grapefruit? Farm raised Atlantic salmon, for me, my benchmark is salmon, I grew up in the North East…that’s what I ate. Every Friday my mom would make fish. I didn’t grow up in the Pacific Northwest where there’s five different species that are wild. I’ve had them both now, and of course I’ve had them all because I’m a seafood chef. I just find them different, that’s all. They’re good for you, that’s for sure. They’re all loaded with Omega 3s and polyunsaturated fats. It’s the number one selling finfish in the world for a reason.It’s real heart healthy, it tastes fantastic no matter if it’s wild or farmed. The good thing about farms is it’s available 12 months a year.
You want to get wild salmon, you want to get it fresh? You can get it maybe four months out of the year, and what are you going to do the other eight? Not eat salmon? You need that continuous flow of omegas in your body- brain food, it’s good for your heart and for everything. It’s very easily obtained, it’s also delicious.”
Candace Rose: Are there any health differences between the two?
Rick Moonen: “No. Wild depends so much on their diet, the time of year, their age, their environment. It’s difficult to compare. It’s all healthy, that’s the good news. Salmon is across the board healthy, but when you want to know that it’s coming from a source that’s not destroying the environment, that it’s going to be clean and healthy, and you go to a brand- True North. There’s no GMO’s in the feeds, it’s gluten free, there’s no preservatives, no additives, no antibiotics, no hormones. It’s perfect.”
Candace Rose: That’s amazing, especially in this day and age.
Rick Moonen: “No question. And it wasn’t that way 10 years ago, so that’s the good news. We’ve reached a tipping point, we’re turning a corner and we’re creating food security in the future as we go from seven billion to 10 billion on the planet, and you need food producers to be doing it right. You’re not going to get a small farm to feed the planet. It’s great that they’re doing it and I applaud them and I support them, and always have and will always continue to do so. But you need large producers to create solutions to the future of food security, and that is exactly what True North is doing. I’m proud to be aligned with them.”
Candace Rose: In terms of cost, does it for farm raised seafood, and if so does it mean consumers will be paying more?
Rick Moonen: “Well, seafood is not cheap and nor should it be. You’re not going to get bargain quality seafood anywhere. I can’t really talk about price so much because I think it’s worth every penny you spend because it’s about your health and it’s about the health of the environment. I don’t know what too expensive is. It’s not for rich people only (that’s the good news) but it’s available. It’s right there and you don’t have to take your Omega 3 pills, you can get it in your lunch or your dinner – thank goodness!”
Candace Rose: Is there any particular you’ve decided to make seafood the focal point of your own restaurants?
Rick Moonen: “It’s something that I’ve believed in my whole life. Ever since I was a chef at a seafood restaurant in New York City in 1994, it’s been my core center of what I’ve become and what I do.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional information you’d like to share?
Rick Moonen: “The thing about True North is I had my finger on the pulse of what they were doing. They’ve been making progresses and advancements in aquaculture, and I’ve studied them for the last year or so, and they’ve impressed the heck out of me. I really hope that together we can all help to influence other farms, other people to do the same. They farm in one particular area and then they let it go fallow for a year, giving it a chance to recover, being responsible, being respectful of the environment. But it’s also good business. It costs a lot of money not to throw a ton of fish in one pen, you put less density in there (2 – 3%). They come out healthier and ultimately when it hits your plate, it tastes better as well.”
Candace Rose: Where can we go for more information?
Rick Moonen: “TrueNorthSalmon.com.”