Roger Berkowitz, Seafood Industry Icon.

November 27, 2018

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a symposium at Boston’s Museum of Science entitled Future of Seafood: Nourishing the World. Many industry stakeholders and thought leaders were in attendance including Michael Tlusty (Former New England Aquarium Director and now Professor of Sustainability and Food Solutions at the University of Massachusetts) who spoke about waste - not only in the food supply chain, but also in our own diets. (Yup, this accomplished professor did use potty language!).

 

Of special note to me was the story that local restaurateur and business icon Roger Berkowitz shared with the group. If you have eaten seafood in the Northeast and in particular in the Boston area, you have likely enjoyed dinner at a Legal Seafoods restaurant more than once. Roger gave the plenary talk and shared how his grandfather started the business in the early 1900’s as a local general store. After WWII refrigeration and large supermarkets starting popping up, forcing granddad to adapt to survive. His creative solution was to lease the adjacent space and open a seafood counter. This business decision was rewarded by a number of macro trends, including an influx of Asians into the Boston metropolitan area who were accustomed to seafood-rich diets. The “big break” came to the family business when the original Top Chef, Julia Child, approached Roger’s dad to purchase a whole monkfish for her PBS television cooking program and subsequently used her public platform to help popularize healthier diets rich in seafood.

 

In the symposium Roger shared his perspective that major changes are afoot in the world of seafood. Post-Julia, fisherman were incentivized to harvest ever more fish, which of course led to overfishing and population crashes. Now, climate change is causing waters to warm and fish populations are migrating accordingly. With the world’s oceans in flux, Roger described aquaculture as THE answer to the question: Where is fish protein going to come from in the future? Consistency in supply and quality of product are what he cares most about and he is convinced farming done the right way can fulfill that need.

 

Previously when I have heard Roger speak, he wasn’t always as overtly supportive towards the potential of aquaculture. But this time I noted him say about farmed fish, “I am a fan” and “The science is catching up”. Roger’s willingness to change his opinions and move with the times is a tribute to his family’s legacy of innovation. His ability to adapt when the times call for it is the sign of a great businessman - and that’s why Roger is Roger.

 

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