Portland institute's seafood bash all about local fisheries, species

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PORTLAND — Encouraging people to support local fisheries and eat sustainably harvested seafood are just two of the goals behind the annual Maine Seafood Celebration.

The other goal of the event is to introduce people to species such as hake or mackerel that don’t have as strong a following as more familiar fish like cod or haddock but are abundant in local waters.

This is the fifth year the Gulf of Maine Research Institute has held the celebration of Maine seafood, which takes place 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26. Tickets are $60 in advance. There will also be a limited number of tickets available at the door for $75 per person.

A portion of each ticket sale will go toward supporting the institute’s sustainable seafood work. A ticket also entitles an attendee to two drinks, desserts and samples of dishes prepared by local chefs, showcasing Gulf of Maine seafood.

Among the dishes on the menu this year are hake brandade with celeriac from Hugo’s, Maine mussels with kelp crisps and seaweed butter sauce from Fore Street, and smoked mackerel pate from the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth.

Creating “demand for local fish supports fishermen and coastal communities … and it’s also a great environmental choice, given that our fisheries are some of the most well-managed in the world,” said Elijah Miller, communications manager at the institute. 

He said the chefs participating in the seafood celebration are all part of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Culinary Partners program.

“These partners have committed to always having Gulf of Maine seafood on their menus,” Miller said, and have also committed to “educating their staff on (the benefits of) seafood sustainability.”

Founded 50 years ago, the institute has four main missions, according to its website: stewarding the ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine, cultivating science literacy – particularly among Maine school children, supporting sustainable seafood initiatives, and strengthening coastal communities, including helping them prepare for sea level rise.

To do its work, the institute takes “an integrated, interdisciplinary approach,” Miller said. “We combine world-class marine research with robust community and education programming to understand how (the) natural, social, and economic systems interact.

“As our chief scientist likes to say: ‘We cover everything from physics to fish sticks.'”

Through the seafood celebration, “(We work) together with chefs (to) raise public awareness about local seafood,” Miller said. With this annual event, “We’re supporting both the economic and ecologic health of the Gulf of Maine.”

“We hope our guests will have an opportunity to try fresh, local seafood dishes and feel encouraged to choose Gulf of Maine seafood whenever possible,” he said. “We get especially excited when people get a chance to try something new … but we’ll also have dishes featuring favorites such as oysters, mussels and scallops.”

Along with the seafood, this week’s event is also designed to highlight the Cohen Center for Interactive Learning, which Miller described as a “state-of-the-art learning laboratory. Each year we serve over 10,000 Maine middle schoolers with our LabVenture! program.”

As part of LabVenture!, students come to the Cohen Center “for a day of interactive science learning, including measuring live lobsters, observing plankton under a microscope, making species observations from a large fish tank and more,” he said.

“We also use the Cohen Center for public lectures in the evenings, but it is otherwise not open to the public, so this is a great opportunity to explore the space.”

In addition, instead of speakers, this year’s Maine Seafood Celebration will feature a video series called the “Gulf of Maine, Explained,” Miller said. “The series explores important-but-unfamiliar concepts related to our work with scientists, education professionals and seafood industry experts.”

He said the videos cover everything from commercial fishing to fisheries research to public outreach and education efforts.

“While we probably won’t answer all your questions in one short video, we hope to spark your curiosity about complicated issues that are central to our mission,” Miller said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Students from across Maine have a chance to observe sea life at the Cohen Center for Interactive Learning at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland.

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