Gil Sylvia is a “great thinker,” according to Professor Michael Morrissey. I was pointed towards Gil to see if I was missing anything in my thinking about Boat to School. Gil Sylvia is a Marine Resource Economist, Director of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES) and Professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, Oregon State University. His research focuses on fishery and aquaculture management and policy, seafood marketing, and bioeconomic modeling. Gil has published in numerous economic and fishery management journals and consulted in a variety of national and international fishery and aquaculture projects. He is also very easy to talk to and was very excited about the potential of Boat to School.
Immediately he zeroed in on the most uncertain part of the project, agreeing that price point will be my hardest challenge. Whiting is 4 to 12 cents/pound, but needs to be processed by a machine and will add to the cost. Individual Quick Fillets would be the result.
Whiting has very delicate tissue; it falls apart easily. He thinks the price point will fit with a school’s budget but is curious how it could be prepared in a way that kids will eat it. For health reasons, it is important to avoid over-battering the fillet.
One option to think about is something like a product called Shrimbos which was shrimp combined with whiting to create a burger-like product that is battered. For a while, it was being sold as a way of firming up the fish’ texture. However, it is not sold anymore. Yet, perhaps there is something out there that could help firm up whiting, like Shrimbos did and mitigate the price point issue. In any case, a school food director would know more about finding a recipe that would work for cooking and meeting the expectations of students. He thinks that will be the next big challenge: getting kids to want to eat fish, by finding a good recipe. Whiting may be exactly what kids want because it does not have a strong fishy flavor. If we used whiting, Boat to School would be advancing our underutilized seafood.
Finally, Gil told me a little about a project he’s working on with Heather Mann called FishTrax. It puts a label on fish that allows the buyer to track the product all the way back to the boat and the fisherman/fisherwoman who caught it! This might be helpful when I get to working on putting fish into school curriculum. I’ll ask him more further down the road. So far, his market research found that adults say they’d like to use it as a tool to teach kids about fishing and processing. Sounds very promising.