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January 5, 2011

Legal 'blacklist' meal backs fishermen

Legal Sea Foods, the pre-eminent Boston-based chain of 31 high-volume restaurants built on serving fresh, local seafood, is planning a one-night event featuring so-called "black-listed" fish in a presentation dripping with political juice.

The target: "Brainwashing" environmental activists, as Legal President and CEO Roger Berkowitz put it, who label seafood and advise consumers what seafood to buy and what not to eat.

Organized at the invitation of the Culinary Guild of New England, Berkowitz said the meal — to served on Monday night, Jan. 24, at Legal Seafoods in Park Square in Boston — is designed to showcase "sustainable seafood" that the leading guides recommend against serving based on what he described as "non-scientific reasons."

The menu will feature tiger shrimp, cod cheeks and hake — all options that Seafood Watch, the self-professed guide to "ocean friendly seafood" published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and other competing publications advise consumers to avoid — either because the species are thought to be too weak for harvesting, or because they are taken by trawling or other means deemed by the rating organizations as bad for ocean ecosystems.

The evening will "bring awareness to some of the inherent complexity that exists within sustainability in the seafood industry," the Culinary Guild said in a prepared statement. "The four-course meal will be designed to provoke discussion on the topic by incorporating so-called 'blacklisted' fish."

The decision by Berkowitz to put Legal Seafoods' shining brand up against the eco-labelers is certain to fuel the bitter struggle between the domestic seafood industry — especially New England's iconic fishing culture — and the big green anti-fishing forces headed by the Pew Environment Group and the Environmental Defense Fund, whose former vice chairwoman Jane Lubchenco was put in charge of fisheries by President Obama in 2009.

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