Tracing change on the water and in our restaurants
The first things that struck me when I started working at the MSC were the level of knowledge and the sheer breadth of the organisation. Realising the scale of the whole seafood industry has been an eye-opener too. I’ve since come to understand why the MSC needs to be like this – big in scale and rich in knowledge – in order to provide a workable sustainable solution for the fish we put on our plates.
Something I didn’t know before starting work here was that seafood remains the number one traded food commodity globally, at a value of over US$130 billion in 2013 – more than tea, coffee and sugar combined. This fact, along with the hundreds of different species, fisheries, methods, nations, makes the sustainability of fish – and the way to measure that – an extremely difficult task.
Luckily, the MSC has been on the case for years now. The release of new requirements for our Fisheries Standard this year shows how the organisation is constantly moving to ensure it is the most relevant and robust sustainability standard for wild capture fish. It has been called the ‘gold standard’ and the ecolabel is the most recognised mark of its kind. This means shoppers and diners have a straightforward way to select products and dishes that adhere to their own ethical outlook; they simply look for the label. This choice means direct support of fisheries whose sustainability has been tested and verified in terms of their stock, environmental impact and management.
Improved accessibility for traceable seafood
Having previously worked at the Sustainable Restaurant Association, I’ve seen first-hand how the MSC was perceived and implemented by the industry. Speaking to restaurants about certification, the key questions I was asked as an account manager were: What do I need to do? How much is it? Which fish are MSC certified? These questions have become a lot easier to answer now that I’m at the MSC, but what is more satisfying is that the answers to these questions have changed, and the accessibility of the programme is much improved.
In 2015 we launched a new version of our traceability standard especially for consumer-facing businesses like restaurants, fish and chip shops and fishmongers. It’s more streamlined and is purpose built for restaurants and, as such, fits in with typical kitchen systems and protocols rather than creating new ones. Having been a chef for a number of years I find this a refreshing change and one I have seen work well already through the certification of contract caterers BaxterStorey, who piloted the system late last year. Assessment time and the level of auditing for restaurants has also been reduced, which has a positive impact on the cost of certification.
Increased supply for restaurants
I’ve also seen vast improvements on the fish side of things too. As an ex-chef I’m keen to see the supply chain working to make it easy for chefs to easily buy MSC certified fish. Ingredients get chefs excited and if you can increase what is available in terms of certified sustainable products, you’re making progress in the right direction.
In the UK we’ve got some fantastic MSC certified fisheries and it’s been brilliant to see these become more and more prominent on the market over the past year. I was at the recently-opened Rockfish in Brixham, Devon last week and was very happy to have some MSC certified fresh Scottish haddock for lunch. A year ago this fish wouldn’t have made it all the way to this part of the country, but now the supply chain has matured and numerous fish and chip shops in the South of England have access to this great Scottish fishery’s produce through a fully certified chain.
The Scottish North Sea haddock fishery itself recently committed to reassessment which is great news for fish and chip shops and restaurants in the UK. Other species from Scotland like Shetland brown crab (now featured on Wahaca’s summer menu), mussels and scallops are now readily available with M&J Seafood launching new product lines this year. It’s not just the UK species that are becoming prominent in the market either. You can find Spencer Gulf King prawns from Australia at Feng Sushi and Olley’s Fish Experience and fresh Alaskan salmon and Tristan da Cunha lobster on the Selfridges fish counter run by Southbank Fresh Fish.
Today, I’m heading north to speak to students who eat MSC certified fish in their canteen every day, meet with some newly certified fish and chip shops, and catch up with a supplier who has been integral to the increased supply of certified Scottish haddock across the UK. All inspiring stories in their own right and all contributing to what is ultimately the great cause. All three prove how by making the right choices at one end of the supply chain – and with some hard work from everyone in-between – consumers can help create long-term sustainability of fisheries on a global scale.
Our oceans still require a lot of help, but the progress that fisheries have made so far is truly inspiring. This World Oceans Day I can confidently say that the outlook is positive and with the kind of progress I’ve witnessed over the past year, the future is looking bright…and blue!
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