Seaver has translated his illustrious career as a chef into leadership of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In this role, Barton spearheads initiatives to inform consumers and institutions about how our choices for diet and menus can promote healthier people, more secure food supplies, and thriving communities.
An internationally recognized speaker, Seaver has delivered lectures, seminars, and demos to a multitude of audiences. His 2010 Mission Blue Voyage TED Talk entitled "Sustainable Seafood? Let's Get Smart" garnered over 400,000 views.
Barton is a firm believer that human health depends on the health of the ocean and that the best way to connect the two is at the dinner table and continues to use his high profile status to push the agenda on sustainable seafood production and consumption.
IntraFish Media: How did you enter the seafood industry and why? What drew you to it as a career?
Barton Seaver: I began my career as a chef, passionate about seafood, the result of spending my summers as a kid on the Chesapeake Bay. My passion for cooking seafood evolved beyond just the ingredients on my plates to include a deep interest in the environment and fishing communities; the men and women who provide seafood for our tables. While I’m no longer in restaurant kitchens, I continue to operate on the outskirts of the seafood industry advocating on behalf of fishing communities and educating about public health and sustainability issues associated with seafood.
IF: What do you aim to achieve in the sector?
BS: My first priority is to get Americans eating more seafood. From a public health standpoint, this is absolutely essential for the health of our country. As a corollary objective to this goal, I’m aiming to use increased consumption to drive diversity of species demand to augment the profitability and sustainability of local and regional fishing communities.
IF: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
BS: I see myself continuing to use food as a pathway to educate both industry and consumers. We all have a role to play in restoring our environment and the health of our fisheries, and my greatest fluency is food. As I see it, health, sustainability, and economically stable fisheries are only ideas until we pick up our forks, at which point they become actions. So bon appetit!
IF: In your view, what are the seafood industry's biggest future challenges?
BS: I've been frustrated and challenged by the lack of unity in messaging I hear coming from the seafood industry. Partially this is a result of very well publicized debate/disagreement with NGO's that tend to dominate media conversations. Rather than constantly fighting negative perceptions in a media battle, the industry as a whole would benefit from a coordinated dedication to growing consumption.
From my vantage point it seems industry players are too often competing against each other for share of the existing market. Now don't get me wrong, competition is a good thing. But I'd much rather see the industry expand and businesses compete for share of these new and emerging market opportunities.
I would like to clarify though that what I stated above is born from a sense of optimism that the industry can collaborate and that health conscious consumers are ready to hear how fisheries have become more responsible.
Another major challenge comes from the surge of aquaculture products in the marketplace. This increased production is great and brings with it major opportunities. But in the culinary industry, and thus in the public's perception, aquaculture often still bears the albatross of decades of bruising public debate over its sustainability.
I encourage seafood business leaders, together with local and federal government agencies, politicians, and NGOs to develop sound policies and regulations for aquaculture production and expansion. The seafood industry has huge potential here to influence consumers and cast off lingering negative perceptions.
IF: What kind of people does the industry need to face these challenges and take it forward?
BS: Diversity is the key to success of any system. The industry needs to attract people with a range of professional experiences, not just in sales. If we look to the resurgence of the local foods movement, best exemplified by the boom in farmer's markets, the passionate people behind it come from an astonishing array of backgrounds. It is this diversity in the ages of local leaders, their varied skill sets, and the variety of political, community, and personal ethics that motivate their participation that have allowed this "good food movement" to gain such traction.
Just as our culture genuflects to farmers, so too must the seafood industry credit itself and represent as part of this noble heritage of food producers. By doing so, I believe that young professionals will see seafood as an industry of opportunity, attracting to it an array of expertise in areas such as foodservice, marine sciences, community organization, public health, and beyond.
IF: What could current leadership in your sector learn to be better at?
BS: Fortunately, a number of very astute leaders in the seafood sector recognize the industry is very different than it was even just a few years ago and that it will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. I encourage these visionaries to continue, even redouble, efforts to engage with their peers in hard conversations and inspire their colleagues to see themselves as drivers of sustainability and stewards of future industry.
I tip my hat to the impressive efforts of groups such as SeaPact, NFI, American Seafood Harvesters, GAA, LocalCatch.org, and many, many others I have the great fortune to learn from.
IF: What is the perception of the seafood industry as a career choice amongst younger people, do you think?
BS: Many of the young people and students I meet have a less than optimistic outlook on the future of the seafood industry. Reading headlines, one can’t be blamed for thinking it’s a dying industry.
The vast majority of up and coming professionals have no connection to fishing communities and thus have no emotional or cultural motivation to place themselves on such a difficult path.
In the coastal communities where I live and work, there is a more innate, native optimism, but also a sadness about the generational opportunities being lost. So many young people are not able to follow in their parents footsteps. As an antidote to coastal "brain drain" I think aquaculture represents a great opportunity to keep the next generation working the water.
In America our younger generations are very influenced by the "start-up" mentality; industries that offer huge promise as the next big thing. These smart and ambitious entrepreneurs are finding good reason to be optimistic about the farming of the seas. And this helps the entire seafood industry as I believe that growth in the aquaculture sector buoys the traditional seafood market in ways that can attract younger talent.
IF: What is the single best piece of career advice you have ever received?
BS: “I'll never have an answer until I understand the full context of the question."
IF: What would you being doing professionally if you weren't in your current role?
BS: I would be a park ranger here in Maine.