My Fishmonger Family’s First-Hand Experience of Climate Change

My dad used to teach flying lessons, he would take students out from an airstrip near our home in Sandpoint, Idaho, and fly to Seattle. While he was there, he’d fill up the plane with fresh fish to bring home and sell. That’s how Flying Fish was born in 1979.

In an undated photo, a young Gildersleeve enjoys a bird’s eye view of an early Flying Fish delivery truck in Sandpoint, Idaho. Lyf’s dad started the business in 1979—before Lyf was born. (Photo by Sandy Graham, Lyf’s mom)

Back when Flying Fish was a food truck on the side of the road – well before food trucks were trending – and even when it eventually moved into its first seafood shack, people didn’t spend a lot of time talking about issues like overfishing and sustainability. But my dad, who was also in the restaurant business, understood the value of protecting our natural resources and he passed a strong conservation ethos along to me.

In 2008, Gildersleeve moved Flying Fish Co. from a farmer’s market booth in Portland to his first food truck, pictured above. Today, Lyf is preparing to move from his current location in an indoor fine foods marketplace to his first brick and mortar fish market, restaurant, and oyster bar—slated to open in February 2020. (Photo by @nataliegildersleeve)
Flying Fish Co. moved from a truck to this fish shack, set up on the corner of a produce tent, where it served up fresh seafood to Portland area residents from 2011 to 2016. (Photo by @nataliegildersleeve)

As a second-generation fishmonger, I often think about what I’ll pass along to my own kids. I want them, I want all future generations, to have the same opportunities I’ve had to enjoy nature, fishing, and a healthy environment. That’s why I’m committed to serving the freshest, most sustainably caught seafood I can find.

Gildersleeve’s commitment to serving sustainably caught seafood is partly tied to his interest in ensuring his own kids are able to enjoy nature, fishing, and a healthy environment. Here, Lyf and his son Miles enjoy surf perch fishing on the coast of Northern California (Photo by @nataliegildersleeve)

I often head out with fishermen, serving as a deckhand to experience exactly what it’s like to bring in the fish. I make it a point to buy directly from fishermen or from primary processors on the coast, because I believe it’s important to bring sustainably caught, hand-harvested fish to the marketplace.

I also try to educate my customers about where their food comes from and the challenges that exist in the seafood market. Most of the people I talk to understand the need to address issues like overfishing and how important it is to manage our fisheries in a sustainable way.

Lately, I’ve been paying more and more attention to how the changing temperature is impacting the ocean and the fish that live in it. Recently, the United Nations released the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. The report highlights how warmer, more acidic water that is starved of oxygen creates a tough habitat for fish, and how populations are expected to dramatically decline by the end of the century.

I don’t need researchers to tell me that changing temperatures are causing fish to move around. As a chef and seafood purveyor, I’ve seen the impact changing temperatures have on fisheries for myself.

Lyf Gildersleeve, the author, often heads out with fishermen, serving as a deckhand and experiencing the changes in fish populations due to climate change. Here, the fishmonger hauls in wild coho salmon off the coast of southeast Alaska. (Photo by @nataliegildersleeve)

Most fish are cold-blooded creatures. Their body temperatures are regulated by the environment. As the ocean heats up, they move toward colder water farther north or farther out into the ocean. Right here off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, fishermen are already seeing this shift. Last year, the anchovies that fishermen I work with use for bait just didn’t show up. Instead, my guys had to travel 100 miles north to find bait, which were following a warmer current.

This year, it was the fish themselves who were late to the party. In years past, come early July, you could go 30 miles off the coast and catch a beautiful 30-pound local tuna. It’s an amazing experience to be out there on the boat and watch them pull the fish in – then follow it all the way to market. This past summer, the tuna didn’t show up until late August.

These types of changes mean more time on the water and more fuel for fishermen – which drives up the market price of the fish.

I’m also seeing the impact of ocean acidification, another result of climate change, on the health of oyster larva. A few of the local hatcheries I work with have had to install more technologically advanced equipment to keep the larva alive as the ocean becomes more and more acidic. The equipment is expensive and that added expense gets paid forward to me and to my customers. Some companies are actually moving their oyster hatcheries to Hawaii – which also makes buying oysters a much more expensive proposition. This isn’t good news for someone like me who owns an oyster bar – or anyone who enjoys eating oysters!

To stave off the threat of the climate crisis – and the havoc it could wreak on some of our favorite seafood dishes – we need to do all we can to make U.S. fisheries as healthy as possible, starting with strong fisheries management policies. Fish stocks that have been sustainably managed and have healthy population levels are more resilient in the face of these impacts and better able to adapt to oceanic changes resulting from the climate crisis.

To ensure continued access to the fresh seafood his customers demand, Gildersleeve meets with Members of Congress in Washington, D.C. to talk about the need for strong, conservation-minded fisheries management policies like the Magnuson-Stevens Act. (Photo by @nataliegildersleeve)

Fortunately, the United States has some of the strongest fishery management standards in the world. A law known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act uses strong, science-based conservation measures to ensure there are plenty of fish to catch and eat, now and in the future.

I’ve traveled to Capitol Hill to talk to policymakers in Washington about the importance of keeping the Magnuson-Stevens Act strong. My business, the livelihoods of the fishermen I work with, and entire coastal communities depend on it. Maintaining and strengthening fishery management laws is the best chance we have to protect our fisheries from the climate crisis and ensure they’re around for future generations to enjoy.

Read more about sustainability on CulEpi:

We Took Our Support for Sustainable Seafood to Capitol Hill by Chef Sammy Monsour

One Solution to Fight CO2 Emissions, Food Waste & Hunger

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