Steve Vilnit was honored as a Seafood Champion Finalist at an awards ceremony during the 11th SeaWeb Seafood Summit, which was held in February in New Orleans, La. Vilnit, Director of Fisheries Marketing at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, has been a tenacious advocate for local, sustainable seafood in Maryland. He has implemented several initiatives during his tenure that have expanded the market for various locally caught, responsibly harvested marine species and shifted the focus away from many strained fish stocks and imported products.
Steve’s hands-on campaign to promote the local yellow perch fishery increased the price of this undervalued fish from 80 cents per pound to between $2.50 and $ 5 per pound and helped generate a local market. Steve’s approach to combat the invasive Asian snakehead that now infests the Chesapeake bay combined identifying and legalizing the most effective harvesting method (bow and arrow!) for this hard-to catch fish. Fishers then began to catch up to 3,000 to 4,000 pounds per day, fostering a taste for the sushi-grade fish among the “invasivore” community by working with chefs and restaurants. Vilnit introduced distributors and restaurants to Blue Catfish as a local, fresh, and cheaper alternative to farmed catfish. The first year of the program sold about 10,000 pounds of fish. This year, the third of the promotion, the number is expected to climb to between 700,000 and 1 million pounds, selling at between 70 cents to $1 per pound.
Vilnit was selected in the Advocacy category, people and entities that positively influence public policy, use the media to raise the profile of sustainable seafood, or influence public discourse and engage key stakeholders by publicly championing advances in sustainable seafood. Other finalists included Ayumu Katano, deputy general manager, Maruha Nichiro Corporation (Japan), The Republic of the Maldives (Indian Ocean–Arabian Sea) and the Environmental Justice Foundation (EU, Africa).