The truth about sustainable seafood

There are some incontrovertible facts about fish (if such things exist in this post-truth world) and they don't make pretty reading. Ninety percent of the world's fish stocks are either fully or overexploited and populations of marine species have halved in the last 40 years. All of this, while 500 million people rely on fish for food and their livelihood.

The truth about sustainable seafood

Swapping seafood dishes from plentiful stocks for struggling species is also in line with an ever more savvy and environmentally aware dining public who want to feel comfortable about the fish they eat and, crucially, are prepared to pay for it. When the Marine Stewardship Council polled the public in 2016, three quarters said we should only be consuming sustainable seafood and more than half (54%) said they’d be happy to pay for it.

The parameters of seafood sustainability shift almost as often as the tides – just not always as predictably. In fact it can be a genuinely confusing and sometimes contradictory picture. Farmed fish is trumpeted by some as the solution to depleted wild stocks. Ongoing issues with lice and disease convince others that aquaculture is not the way forward. And do the recent positive reports about North Atlantic cod mean that chip shop favourite is back on the menu for good?  

To simplify what can be seen as a complicated issue the Sustainable Restaurant Association is running a campaign throughout July, calling on all foodservice businesses to take a simple first step – Remove the Worst. That means removing any items on the menu rated ‘5’ by the Marine Conservation Society. These species are classified as ‘fish to avoid’ which in some cases, like European eel and common skate, are endangered. As MCS asks provocatively in its Good Fish Guide: ‘would you eat snow leopard or black rhino?’.

We’ve also teamed up with all of the major organisations working in this field (or ocean) MCS, Marine Stewardship Council, Freedom Foods, Soil Association, Fish2Fork, Sustainable Fish Cities and Aquaculture Stewardship Council on an easy to read, crystal clear and practical toolkit.

Armed with this guide and a simple action plan any foodservice business can embark on a positive seafood journey, be they high end, high street, pub or contract caterer.

We’ve spoken to a number of SRA Members about their recipe for menu that provides their customers with delicious fish dishes that don’t threaten stocks and the campaign website features insights from these chefs in case studies and interviews championing responsibly sourced fish. Almost all of them regard the MCS Good Fish Guide as their bible. Both caterer Vacherin and Devon restaurant group ODE-truefood insist on their chefs having the Good Fish Guide app on their phones.

That’s not to say it will always be plain sailing. As a caterer, it can often be difficult to overcome ‘the client gets what the client wants’ mantra. But as an example to the industry Vacherin digs its heels in when one requests a ‘5’ rated fish. Indeed, a request for a ‘4’ will be met with a strong recommendation for an alternative. This steadfast, principled approach helps spread the message that it’s not acceptable to catch, source, serve or eat these threatened species.

One chef taking seriously his responsibility to lead as well as feed, is Jack Stein, director of food at Rick Stein restaurants, who, when he learned of the plight of wild sea bass, sat down with his team, including dad Rick, and took the decision to remove a customer favourite that had been a mainstay of The Seafood Restaurant menu since the doors opened more than 40 years ago.

For the businesses selling huge volumes, like award-winning chippies Kingfisher in Plymouth and The Bay Fish & Chips in Aberdeenshire, serving MSC certified fish is a fantastic way of ensuring that every portion served has been sourced responsibly – and when you’re serving 700 portions a day like Kingfisher, that matters.

For more inspiration, from the likes of Jack Stein and others championing responsible seafood sourcing, any foodservice business can join the SRA’s month-long campaign. There’s also the chance to share the recipe for a fine future for fish and catch our tips, resources and information. Follow the conversation @FoodMadeGood #GoodFishGoodDish.

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