Geoff Bettencourt, Point Pillar Harbor, Calif.
You can tell by the way the Bettencourts describe the Moriah Lee that they are a family of fishermen who enjoy a good story: “The Moriah Lee is more than just a boat. She is a family member. Strong enough to haul thousands of pounds while defending her crew from the ocean’s rage. Beautiful enough to capture your eye upon a red sky and a shimmering sea. Brave enough to face the harsh summer winds and the pounding winter swells. She swims amongst dolphins and sings with the whales. She carves through waves and keeps an even keel. Never been high and dry, but always dressed to the nines. She’s more than just a boat. She’s a Bettencourt, tried and true.”
Current captain of the Moriah Lee, Geoff Bettencourt, started fishing salmon with his father and grandfather when he was tall enough to see over the boat’s railing. While in high school, he continued to fish for salmon and crab and trawl for rockfish, sand dabs, halibut and sole. He went full-time into fishing in the early 1990s.
As the fishery has changed, the family business has adapted. The Bettencourts embraced conservation-minded sustainable fisheries management and underwent a major gear shift to traps for sablefish, which they now fish for from July to October. The Moriah Lee and her crew fish for Dungeness crab from November into April and for wild king salmon in May and June.
Bettencourt believes the only way to both protect the resource and secure his family’s future is to combine old-school honor and wisdom with a progressive approach to the future of fishing.
Barton Seaver, Chef/Seafood Advocate, Portland, Maine
Chef Barton Seaver began cooking with sablefish when he became aware of the sustainability issues surrounding Chilean sea bass in the early 2000s. “I was a young chef working in Washington, D.C., and though my customers demanded Chilean sea bass, I took it off my menu in favor of sustainable sablefish and to support innovative small-scale fisheries,” says Seaver.
“At that time, fishermen were often perceived as more the problem than part of the solution. It was a very compelling story to share how the Bettencourts and others like them were, in fact, at the helm of the sustainability movement.”
Sablefish and Chilean sea bass share many of the same characteristics, both having deliciously silken flesh that is very forgiving, maintaining its richness and moisture in almost any preparation.
“The flavor is complex and savory, with a shellfish-like sweetness, and takes on a caramelized-pecan/nutty finish when cooked over the wood grill,” says Seaver.
In this dish, grilled sablefish is served with a quick pan sauce of cherries that have been seared in brown butter, deglazed with white balsamic and finished with tarragon.
Seaver’s customers got hooked on sablefish because of the quality of the fish and the story behind it. And why wouldn’t they when servers can use these juicy details to set such bait?
Seaver notes that sablefish takes to freezing particularly well, making it accessible year-round. He recommends a quick, dry-cure in salt and sugar for about an hour to firm up its texture and accentuate its flavor. “It’s a fish that wows with its finesse and impresses with its provenance,” he says.