Guest post from Robb Hengerer, Grand Central’s Portland kitchen manager.
Where I grew up in the Northeast, shrimp rolls and lobster rolls defined a proper summer lunch.
So it was sad news when, last summer, we decided not to put the Oregon Shrimp Roll on Grand Central’s cafe menu.
We had heard from our fishermen that the Oregon catch numbers were too low. Being committed to local, sustainable sourcing, we didn’t want to contribute to depleting the Oregon catch; Grand Central typically goes through about 1,200 pounds of pink shrimp in Portland alone for this special.
This spring, I decided to do a bit more investigating.
First, a bit about those shrimp.
What’s so great about Oregon pink shrimp?
Besides fresh taste, a snappy texture, and a nostalgic connection to my childhood, Oregon pink shrimp is sustainable. In fact, it was the first worldwide certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (Washington’s followed suit in 2015). This is a huge deal.
Among the many criteria for this certification is constant fishery monitoring and stock assessment, which allows biologists to react before over-fishing occurs. The Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) oversees this monitoring, and I was able to speak to the biologist who is the project leader for pink shrimp. I’m really excited that we not only have access to this local and sustainable resource, but that we also have direct access to people monitoring its progress!
Oregon pink shrimp have a 2-3 year lifespan – so brief, that overall numbers aren’t greatly affected by fishing. Instead, the health of the fishery is determined by sea and environmental factors, which have been favorable in the Northwest. Also, pink shrimp are actually able to change sex depending on the makeup of the population, so their numbers remain very steady.
We’ve all heard about various species ending up in the wrong nets, called bycatch. With pink shrimp, bycatch reduction devices are mandatory, and the fishing fleet uses nets designed to let other fish out. Plus, by attaching LED lights to the front edge of the nets, they’ve managed to reduce bycatch by an additional 78 to 90 percent. Almost the entire fleet uses these lights (check out the illustration to see how they work).
The catch is big, and so are the Shrimp Rolls
The news from DFW this year was great: shrimp numbers are high (last year, it turns out, the issue wasn’t with low numbers but with getting the shrimp to market).
We have a new supplier, too. As it turns out the Nisqually Native American tribe in Washington, the same folks who distribute Seka Hills Olive Oil, have a seafood/fishing program called Sha Nah Nam Seafood. This year our pink shrimp comes from them, and it’s fantastic.
Those Shrimp Rolls are back and better than ever – get in here soon to try one, because summer won’t last forever!