You’ve probably seen the terms “bycatch” or “trash fish” when referring to certain species of Gulf fish.
Not only is that mean, and just plain rude, it’s misleading. Because many of the tastiest fish in the Gulf are some of the least popular, just as delicious catches like Triggerfish used to be.
Enter the NUISANCE Group, a team committed to raising awareness of Gulf Coast flora and fauna considered to be a Nuisance, Underutilized, and/or Invasive, that are also Sustainable and Available, through Noble Culinary Endeavors. (Got all that?)
Co-Founded in May of this year by Chef Chris Sherrill, Executive Chef and Managing Partner of the Flora-Bama Yacht Club, and Chandra Wright, Nature Tourism Specialist for the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, NUISANCE sprung from the pair’s shared concern over the invasive Lionfish.
“Most people initially think we’re a little bit crazy, or maybe a lot crazy, when we first tell them what we’re doing,” Wright said. “But once we explain it and get them to sample something they might not have ever thought about eating before and they realize it’s delicious, they’re usually quick converters.”
What’s on the menu, you might ask?
All kinds of stuff you might not expect to see on a menu, including Hog Snapper, Tiger Shrimp, Red Porgy, Butterfish, Silk Snapper, Gafftopsail Catfish, Whitebone Porgy, Queen Snapper, Silk Snapper, even Stingrays.
And Chef Sherrill, well, he encourages the challenge.
Sherrill’s seafood supplier, a member of the Gulf Wild traceability program that encourages fishermen to bring in their bycatch, brings him a “mystery box” full of fish that normally might’ve gotten away.
“I have just about every boat captain in the area bringing me off fish,” Sherrill said. “The customers love the new fish species we serve! We get calls every day from people wanting to know what odd species we got in. Chefs like Brody Olive and Chris Kelly have jumped right in too.”
Additionally, the Flora-Bama Yacht Club has a “hook & cook” option where locals can bring in their catches – especially if they aren’t something they’re used to cooking and eating – and let Sherrill and his team prepare them.
Need proof that the NUISANCE message is spreading throughout the Gulf? Look no further than the underutilized Jack Crevalle species.
Sherrill’s Jack Crevalle was a big hit at this year’s Flora-Bama Fishing Rodeo, and after his recipe was printed in articles throughout the region, Jack Crevalle started showing up on his seafood supplier’s list of available species.
“I think that was the first time we realized we were really on to something big with out efforts,” Wright said.
The impact of NUISANCE Group’s mission could reach much, much further if folks in Alabama’s seafood industry start adopting their mentality.
Perhaps one of the biggest impacts would be fishing regulations and seasons here in Alabama.
“Our charter fishing fleet here on the Alabama coast is a huge part of our economy, and they have been hit hard by the regulatory changes,” Wright said. “So if we can expand the number of species that they and their customers want to target, then hopefully we can maintain a strong, viable industry for years to come. But we also aren’t looking to increase the number of regulated species, so we don’t want to put too much pressure on any one particular species.”
So next time you reel in one of the Gulf Coast’s less popular fish, think twice before dismissing it as a “trash fish.”
Because if you change your opinion on underutilized species, you might be helping Alabama’s seafood industry – and you might be in for a heck of a meal.
“Raising awareness through our culinary voice will help guests enjoy and talk about their experiences they have while visiting the area,” Sherrill said. “How awesome would it be to see on Facebook, ‘Hey guys, I’m eating at Flora-Bama Yacht Club, and I’m eating STINGRAY!’ With a photo to prove it!”
Want to try cooking a NUISANCE fish in your own kitchen? Check out our recipe for Chef Rob McDaniel’s Pan Seared Red Porgy.