It got little attention from the mainstream media, but seafood netted some historic firsts in the nation’s new dietary guidelines.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted a report in July to the secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that recommends what Americans should include in their diets from 2020 through 2025, a task it has undertaken every five years since 1980.
“This is by far the strongest they’ve come out for seafood in all of the U.S. dietary guidelines history, and at virtually every point in the lifecycle from babies to pregnant and lactating moms to adults. I was really amazed,” said Tom Brenna, a professor of pediatrics, chemistry and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas/Austin and at Cornell University.
Along with taking a whole life approach for the first time, Brenna said the advisers also considered nutritional requirements for children under 2 years of age.
“The general idea is that kids should be breastfed, that’s the recommendation to 6 months of age. And starting at 6 months when you’re introducing finger foods, solid foods, the recommendation is to include seafood right from the beginning,” he said.
Another first – the dietary panel did a deep dive into the reams of evidence proving seafood’s nutritional benefits.
“The omega 3s found in seafood are to a developing retina and brain what calcium is to bones. But it is not just the omega 3s, it is these great minerals that are in some cases rare in other foods,” Brenna explained. “The zinc and iron and selenium and iodine…and these are just not as high as they need to be in diets that are missing seafood.”
The new diet guidelines now need a stamp of approval by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture before they become policy. If passed as written, seafood would be required eating at, for example, women/infant/children’s (WIC) feeding programs and school lunches.
“If you read just the executive summary, the thing you would stick into the WIC program is seafood. It looks like the most important damn thing that women could be eating,” Brenna said.
“Twenty-five years ago, out of an abundance of caution, people were concerned about mercury. They said we don’t know what the thresholds are for mercury or whether it’s bad for neuro-development. It turns out after decades of research that the danger was not eating too much fish, it was eating too little fish. I could probably calculate the number of IQ points we’ve lost because of this policy. We’ve got to get people eating seafood as they used to, and we’ve got to make it a priority and a federal policy.”
The committee recommends eating 8 to 12 ounces of seafood weekly, particularly before, during and after pregnancy, and stresses that only 20 percent of adults and 6 percent of children meet the goal of eating seafood twice per week.
“Their report is one more piece of evidence that Americans of all ages should eat seafood more frequently,” said John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute. “As part of a healthy dietary pattern, seafood offers a lifetime of benefits from brain development among babies to heart health and a healthy weight for adults. The report even notes the link between diet-related diseases – which regular seafood consumption can help prevent – and increased susceptibility to the current global pandemic.”
The public has two weeks to comment to the USDA on the new guidelines and competing protein producers will be lobbying for their products. Brenna urges seafood advocates to speak up.
“Frankly, I think that some of those voices seem to be missing. You have this great passion that is coming from the scientists, because we see how important it is,” Brenna said. “If the seafood industry sits by quietly, they are going to let this opportunity pass, both for the industry itself, and also for the health of all Americans. Because this is the time – the data are there, the committee has said this is important and now it has to get translated into federal policy. But it’s a political process now and so the industry has to weigh in in a big way, and we have to get our senators and representatives on board.”
Bibs to bags – Hose off those worn and torn fishing bibs and recycle them into rugged bags and other seaworthy items. A Maine fishing family needs more bib material for its Rugged Seas line that was launched at the popular East Coast Fishermen’s Forum in March. Since then the bib gear has taken off.
“We’ve had people send us their bibs from Canada and Rhode Island, up and down the East Coast, from Washington state. It’s been really exciting. Even at a time where things are really challenging I think people have liked the story and it’s been a good connection. It’s really taken off,” said Nikki Strout, co-owner of Rugged Seas with her husband Taylor, a lifelong lobsterman who also has fished out of Dutch Harbor since 2012.
Nikki said Taylor was inspired by all the fishery-related hoodies and T-shirts he saw there and started designing similar wear for Maine. That evolved to include upscale uses for bibs.
“In the last three or four years here in Portland, there have been a lot of struggles that the fishermen have been facing and working waterfront and development issues. So we really wanted to try to bring some more attention to the fishing industry and the lifestyle. We were trying to think of something that each fishery has that is very identifiable. And we thought of bibs and said is there a way we can repurpose them instead of throwing them away?”
The Strouts also connected with well-known oilskin maker Guy Cotten, who gives them remnants for Rugged Seas gear. A portion of all sales goes to local fishing groups.
“It’s a hard lifestyle, the work they do and then being a family that, you know, we haven’t seen Taylor in eight weeks now,” Nikki said. “So to kind of tell a story with every bag we make is the whole goal.”
The Strouts hope to get bib drop barrels in Alaska fishing towns but for now, donors can get free Rugged Seas gear to cover their shipping costs.
“They can ship directly to us,” Nikki said, “and I would be very happy to send some free gear out to anybody who wants to donate their old bibs or jackets or whatever they have.” www.ruggedseas.com
Weigh in on water – The public can comment through August 24 on whether the Pebble Mine project will/will not violate existing state water quality laws. Section 401 of the Clean Water Act gives states and Native tribes the right to protect waters within their borders. Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can authorize a permit allowing Pebble to discharge dredged or fill material into streams or wetlands, the state Department of Environmental Conservation must certify that it will not violate existing laws. If DEC does not issue a certification or a waiver, the Corps cannot issue a permit under the Clean Water Act.