Michael Morrissey is a Professor of Food Science at Oregon State University (OSU) and currently the Director of the OSU Food Innovation Center in Portland. He was the Director of the OSU Seafood Laboratory from 1990-2010. He has published more than seventy-five articles in seafood safety, quality, product development, fish species-ID via DNA and by-product utilization. Dr. Morrissey is a Principal with the Community Seafood Initiative, which offers assistance to food entrepreneurs and small and mid-size businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest. His interests include seafood processing, biochemistry, quality, safety and development of seafood value-added products.
I spoke with Michael about Boat to School and asked him how to begin this project. We agreed that fish offer many health benefits as well as some health risks. The benefits are for our hearts and minds. Fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids that help us cognitively, such as EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). Yet, we must be aware of mercury build up in our bodies. Michael explained that Oregon fish such as tuna, rockfish, and salmon might have some mercury, but not a high enough level to me harmful to us. For example, “light tuna” has a very low dose and traditional canned “Albacore tuna” has a slightly higher dose than that. The good news is that troll-caught albacore caught off the Oregon coast are smaller fish and have lower amounts of mercury and are high in omega-3 fatty acids. According to the Food and Drug Administration‘s daily suggested dose limit, neither fish comes close to meeting that, even if we’re eating these fish several times a week. Thus, it is clear that mercury will not pose much of a risk for school lunches as fish is not served often during the year, and the rare school district might serve it monthly.
The difficulty that we both saw in the idea of seafood being served in school lunches is the cost. Seafood as a protein is not cheap. Say on average, lunch costs $2.75 (example from Portland Public Schools 6th-8th grade lunch). A third of that cost is spent on the actual food that goes into the meal. The rest is spent on other costs like labor. We discussed prices of Oregon seafood such as Albacore tuna, Pacific Pink shrimp, salmon, rockfish, and Pacific Whiting. It seems that whiting is the cheapest of Oregon fish and would be a good option for schools. Also, if fish was not served as the entire entree, it could be an added protein to a meal, such as a pizza topping or taco filling.
How’s that for a start? Fish is healthy for us and we found an Oregon fish that won’t break the bank!
Finally, he suggested I contact the following people:
Cristina Dewitt, Director of OSU Seafood Lab in Astoria
Gil Sylvia, Marine Economist at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport
Brad Pettinger Director of the Oregon Trawl Commission