One documentary filmmaker’s mission to prove what the seafood industry reveals about our health, oceans, and climate change
By Sofia Zuñiga
Sun Shrimp video preview by @sereiafilms
On the southwest coast of Florida, hidden on a 17-mile-long island, is a nine-year-old shrimp farm named Sun Shrimp. With her cinematographers Daniel Kaplan and Dan Diez, Sarah Curry drives out to see the team of around 100 farmers in action and taste the garlic and butter shrimp sustainably farmed by Robin Pearl, the owner of Sun Shrimp.
Upon arrival, the film crew follows farmers into the shrimp lab to document how they hatch baby shrimp and then stock them in the tanks to grow. No antibiotics, no pesticides or waste runoff. Instead of constructing industrialized shrimp ponds, Sun Shrimp uses a land-based system, housing shrimps in closed containers, where temperature and water conditions are under strict control. The farm doesn’t just flush used water back out into the environment – risking pollutants and pathogens damaging surrounding ecosystems – but filters and reuses its water onsite.
“Every seafood product has a story to tell,” says Sarah Curry. She founded Sereia Films, in 2016, combining her passion for storytelling and the ocean to catalyze change in the seafood industry.
Scientists across continents alarm: global fish supplies will decline as a result of climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, and continual destruction of marine ecosystems. Urgent efforts need to be taken to make the seafood industry, at large, more sustainable. Sarah’s documentaries tell stories of changemaking innovators, like Sun Shrimp, who impact the health of what’s in our waters and what’s on our plates.
“We try to focus on being solution-oriented, telling positive stories, inspiring hope,” Sarah says. “We have to be hopeful. There are so many people working toward restoring the oceans. We could inspire other fishermen and aquaculture businesses to get on the right track to become sustainable.”
Before creating Sereia Films, Sarah worked on commercial fishing boats after studying marine biology at Louisiana State University.
“It was the first time I saw industrial seafood production and the bycatch that’s associated with it,” Sarah says. “I got to speak to all the fishermen, and that lifted back the curtain.”
Later, Sarah moved to Miami to work with Fish Navy Films to create documentaries on fish farms in 2011. After Fish Navy Films closed, she hopped on a plane to Portugal, known as one of the best fishing locations in Europe. Strolling Trilho dos Pescados (Fisherman’s Trail) in the south of Portugal, she encountered a few fishermen about to embark on their daily journey. They kindly invited her to film on their boat, an offer she would never refuse.
On this adventure to collect Portugal’s delicacy, gooseneck barnacles, the fishermen taught Sarah a word that stuck: sereia, meaning “mermaid” in Portuguese.
Sarah’s docuseries Eating Out: The Hunt for Sustainable Seafood tells of fisherwomen, scientists, NGO leaders, chefs, and fish farmers driving the sustainable seafood movement and explores the obstacles they face. From bycatch to the importance of healthy South Florida ecosystems, Sarah interviews people with unique perspectives to glean a more inclusive understanding of these complex issues.
In the most recent episode, Italian chef Mattia Danese demonstrates his method of reducing seafood waste: devising as many recipes needed to use an entire fish.
"If the ocean is going to give you something, you don't have to waste anything," he says.
It's impressive to see from just one fish, Mattia serves tartare with fresh garden tomatoes and parsley, fish fillet cubes with marinated cucumber and chile negro oil, fish liver glazed in honey, and bonito tiradito from the belly dressed with sesame oil.
For delicious and sustainable clams, Sarah brings you to the Two Deck Shellfish, which operates an aquaculture farm just north of Sarasota, FL. The company was founded by Aaron Welch Jr. and his son, Aaron Welch III. The Welchs raise seed clams that they plant in bags at the bottom of Terra Ceia Bay.
"In order to feed the hungry clams with algae, the farmers use a system of pumps and passive upwelling to bring in unfiltered water directly from the bay; the water passes over the clams, and they siphon out the algae to eat. When the water leaves the nursery, it's pumped back into the bay cleaner than when it entered," explains Sarah. "Even at this stage, the farm is benefiting the local environment."
Since the United States imports approximately 80% of its seafood, most restaurants are most likely serving seafood that isn't fresh after transport. Two Docks Shellfish harvests fresh clams weekly and delivers their locally-sourced, sustainable seafood to area restaurants and retail outlets.
Sarah adds, "If you're a seafood eater, always seek out local farm-raised shellfish, get to know the person you buy your oysters or clams from, and support restaurants that source local seafood."
For consumers and business owners, being aware is the most important start to this journey. There are resources such as Seafood Watch, an organization by California's Monterey Bay Aquarium that creates standards and recommendations for restaurants and other businesses purchasing sustainable seafood, or FishChoice, which offer guidance on which seafood products are safe to buy and from which suppliers.
Knowing how and where your seafood is harvested might be the key to protecting our oceans and ensuring a long-term seafood supply.
"South Florida needs to be at the forefront of the sustainable fishing movement," continues Sarah. “By making smart seafood choices, you can be part of the solution."