FishWise’s Tobias Aguirre Honored as a Seafood Watch Hero

Created on Friday, 25 May 2012

FishWise now has our very own Seafood Watch Hero. Congratulations to our Executive Director Tobias Aguirre! Tobias was honored along with seven other ocean advocates, from a variety of fields at the Cooking for Solutions event last week at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Below is a short interview with Tobias about his experience at this year’s Cooking for Solutions.

Can you please describe briefly, what is Cooking For Solutions?
It’s an opportunity to celebrate incredible food and wine, their origins and the connection between the choices we make and the environment, and also, to honor inspiring, leading chefs who advocate for sustainability.

What were the highlights this year? Any inspiring talks you attended or people you met?
Chef Michel Nischan’s stirring acceptance speech for the Chef of the Year. He talked about why knowing the origin of food and its connection to farmers and fishermen is so important. He also did something unique, he made everyone in the audience stand up and recite different pledges tailored to their roles in this community. He made everyone pledge to continue eating seafood as often but in smaller portions and for those who don’t like sardines to eat more sardines and to hope that they taste good. That got a good laugh from the crowd. He made the scientists and the ocean advocates promise to continue providing good information but to speak plain English so the public can understand. Lastly, he made all the chefs vow to provide sustainable seafood and to make sardines taste good. (If you are interested, these pledges are recorded in this video.)

What does sustainability taste like? Any unique foods during the tastings that thrilled your taste buds? 
Sustainable foods tend to taste way better. I think you can actually taste the care, conditions, and commitment in every bite. Many of the dishes were amazing, flavorful and artfully presented There was a great dish prepared by an ARAMARK chef featuring shrimp and blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico in spicy curry stew which highlighted great seafood coming from domestic fisheries.

Did you meet anyone new who really inspired you?
I met a CEO of a net-pen farmed salmon company over lunch. As we all know, net-pen salmon farm is a controversial issue since it has significant impacts on the environment. I was impressed that he was attending the event so that he could understand sustainable seafood better, that he was willing to acknowledge the problems with what he does, and that he was seeing what he could do to reduce his company’s impact on the ocean. It shows how important it is for unsustainable companies to attend events like Cooking For Solutions to learn about the issues and what they can do to improve

So tell us about the Seafood Watch Heroes and what does this award mean to you…
I believe this was the first year that they gave this award. I was one of the eight Seafood Watch Heroes honored, and along with my colleague Jim Cannon, the CEO of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the only one from a marine conservation organization. It’s gratifying to be recognized by colleagues and a world-renowned aquarium. It is a reflection that the work I’ve being doing with FishWise since 2005 is meaningful and resulting in some success. We don’t seek out much recognition for what we do, so it is nice to get some every now and then. It inspires me to continue to help companies and consumers contribute to ocean conservation. 

Well, congratulations Tobias! We are all proud to be a part of team FishWise. Anything else you want to share with us?
I want to share a reflection echoes what Julie Packard, the Aquarium’s Executive Director, shared in her opening remarks. We have come a long way. We have made tremendous progress in the sustainable seafood movement in the last five years. Now, companies big and small are engaging in sustainable seafood more and more. Twenty five of the top thirty retailers in North America are working with marine conservation organizations to reduce the impact of their seafood operations. They are doing this buy sourcing more environmentally responsible options, by setting up improvememnts projects and, in the case of our partners, advocating for policy reform. Also, consumers are learning the importance of their choices. Also, consumers are learning the importance of their choices. There’s always much more to do, but it’s important to take a look back and celebrate what we have accomplished.


Tobias also shared with us his profile that was included in the event program.

As Executive Director, Tobias sets the conservation vision and strategy for FishWise, a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that promotes the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems through environmentally responsible practices. Tobias oversees FishWise’s work with natural foods retailers, as well as national chains such as Safeway and Target. These companies have been recognized as leaders in the sustainable seafood movement. His work with industry executives, trade associations, and NGO leaders focuses on collaboration and results in effective business and improved environmental performance. Tobias serves on an advisory group to the Food Marketing Institute, as well as the Steering Committee of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, which is comprised of sixteen of North America’s leading marine conservation organizations. Tobias holds degrees from Stanford University and UCSD’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. In San Diego, he specialized in nonprofit management and business strategy and was named a Schoepflin Fellow for his work on sustainable fisheries. He is happy to call the Monterey Bay area his long time home and is inspired by his staff at FishWise every day.

Why does sustainability matter to you?
In addition to providing protein, employment and recreation to many, the oceans possess tremendous intrinsic value. Living next to the Monterey Bay, I see every day the beauty and complexity of these complex ecosystems and am compelled to play a small role in their responsible stewardship. I believe that business can operate in a way that balances the needs of people, planet and profit. That is what we are trying to do at FishWise.

What fish do you most identify with?
Great question! I would say rockfish because they mature late and live to be very old, much like humans. They also come in many beautiful colors. Dungeness crab, sablefish, and California salmon are some of my favorites to eat.

How do you get people to change their habits?
By making it easy. Seafood sustainability can be very complex, so we translate a vast body of info into easy to use tools and programs for our business partners and consumers, alike.