Instead, he uses sustainable Arctic char or wild Alaskan salmon, smoked mussels, oysters and other mollusks, and invasive Asian crabs. Miya’s tilapia is grown in closed tanks by schoolchildren in an inner-city aquaculture program in neighboring Bridgeport, and much of the seafood Lai harvests himself from 60 acres of fishing grounds he leases off Connecticut’s Thimble Islands.
On a brilliant day, Bun Lai and his fishery partner Brendan Smith chug across placid Long Island Sound.
“I’ve seen how commercial fishing can damage an ecosystem if it’s not done right,” says Smith, who dropped out of school at 14 to become an offshore fisherman. He gave it up, managed to put himself through Cornell Law School, but could not stay away from the sea. “I’ve watched so many fisheries disappear,” he says as he glances over the bow of the boat. It’s not just overfishing that worries him: “Even 10 years ago, this place was teeming with lobsters. The water’s too warm for them here now.”
Now that Smith is back, he is trying to “do it right.” Today, he and Lai will haul back oysters, mussels and clams harvested from beds that actually help clean the water. Some will be sold as shares in their CSF (Community Supported Fishery). Others, along with seaweed and invasive species, such as Asian crabs, Lai will use on his menu tonight.
It’s a menu for the future, a menu Bun Lai calls “my love letter to humanity.”
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