Source your seafood responsibly -
it's what customers want
Dr Jon Harman, development director at Seafish, the authority on seafood, explains why more and more of your customers will be asking where their fish comes from – and how you can do your bit
At Seafish, we run regular market research studies into consumer attitudes to all things associated with seafood.
One of the things we look at is consumer attitudes to sustainability and responsible sourcing. The recent media focus on these issues has seen an increase in the number of people who, when prompted, say they are concerned about this issue: now more than one in three consumers says when asked that they are “concerned about the future of fish stocks.”
More tellingly, the number of people who express concern without being asked has leaped from eight per cent to 19% over the last couple of years, thanks to powerful films such as The End of The Line and books such as Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. The good news is that public sympathy and recognition for the work being done by the seafood industry has also increased. In another recent poll we conducted, more than 80% of those asked said that they believed fishing was an integral part of the British tradition, and nearly half of those polled said that they saw fishermen as the stewards of the seas.
What’s being done to protect stocks?
You may not often hear it said in the press, but Britain is a world leader in responsible fishing. We have been ranked fourth in Europe, and in the top 15 nations worldwide, for the sustainability of our approach to fishing.
These are the facts:
- Britain was the first nation to create an industry-sponsored, independently vetted Responsible Fishing Scheme. Set up by Seafish in 2006, this scheme now covers half of the UK fleet by weight of catch and is being copied throughout the world from Holland to Sri Lanka
- Britain has more fisheries certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council than any other country
- Cod stocks in the North Sea have increased by 50% since their low point ten years ago, and are now hovering around biologically sustainable levels thanks to a number of conservation initiatives by British fishermen.
So much for the facts. But these are really nothing more than dry detail. As a catering professional, what can you do to make sure you are selling fish that is responsibly caught or farmed – and how can you improve your knowledge about the fish you are buying?
The big issues
Many people will say that quality and price of food are all that matters; and up to a point, they are right. However as the surveys discussed above show, when it comes to fish, more and more consumers are concerned about sustainability.
Many have decided not to eat cod, or wild-caught fish of any species, when in fact it is perfectly possible to eat these fish with a clear conscience, provided that they come from a sustainable source. As a caterer, your aim should be to be able to provide as much information as possible. You may choose to make a feature of this policy; you should always be able to answer customers’ questions.
Here are some tips to make your menus more sustainable:
- Always check Seafish’s Responsible Sourcing Guides when creating your menus
These guides are available free of charge from www.seafish.org and are updated every six months. They cover the 29 most popular species served in restaurants, including warm water prawns, cod, turbot, halibut, mackerel, haddock and many others. Based on independent data from scientific bodies such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), they tell you the best times to serve different types of fish on your menu, and also provide you with information on how various fish stocks are doing.
- Ask your fish merchant if the fish is from an MSC-certified fishery
If your fish is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified, make sure this is clear on your menus. The MSC is working to make its ‘Blue Tick’ logo available for catering establishments as well as retailers – contact them at www.msc.org. You can also consult the Good Catch website, set up by Sustain and other partners – or the MSC’s ‘Fish to Eat and Avoid’ list, which is peer-reviewed by Seafish experts.
- Ask your fish merchant if the fish was caught by a vessel in the Responsible Fishing Scheme
For more information on all of the vessels in the RFS, check out seafish.org. You could really impress customers by telling them who caught their fish, and from where they sail.
- Check the fishing method and provenance of the fish with your merchant
Many customers will now make a point of asking how their fish was caught and where it comes from. Ideally you should aim to include this information on your menu, or at least have it to hand in the event of questions from customers.
Responsible sourcing is not a trend or a fad; it is something that will only increase in importance for restaurateurs in the future.
To find out more about responsible sourcing and seafood sales data visit Seafish.
What are consumers eating these days?
Seafish regularly monitors consumer consumption habits to track the most popular species consumers are eating. Here’s our most recent set of data, compiled from what people purchase in supermarkets and fishmongers. Restaurant eating will, of course, be different – but this gives you a good idea of people’s tastes as they stand:
- King Prawns
- Cold Water Prawns
Most catering professionals would probably agree that there are no real surprises here, except perhaps pollock, which has increased in terms of sales volume by more than 150% since 2008. This is probably owing to its suitability as a substitute for traditional white fish species such as cod and haddock, and the fact that it often retails for between a half to two-thirds of the price of these other species.
Aside from pollock, other interesting alternative species include sea bass – now successfully farmed in South-Eastern Europe – coley, hake, squid, tilapia and octopus. Hake is sustainably sourced from the Southern Atlantic and has a firm, meaty flesh not unlike cod and haddock, while squid stocks in the North Sea have increased markedly in recent years.
Perhaps of most interest to the catering sector is the meteoric rise of tilapia and basa, also known as pangasius or Vietnamese river cobbler. These fish are sustainably and cheaply farmed in South-East Asia, and have seen a sales volume increase of 47.6% in the past year, as consumers turn on to their distinctive taste and easy cooking.
In 2010 the first British-farmed tilapia became available. Produced by The Fish Company on four fish farms across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, British tilapia is 100% UK produced and offers complete traceability. For more information visit www.cookingtilapia.co.uk.