Wild South Coast sea bream with Chichester clams Lussmanns1

A sea bream dish from SRA Member Lussmanns (4.5 blue fish rated on Fish2Fork)

By Lewis Smith, Fish2fork

Conservation of our seas isn’t just an issue for environmental groups.

Chefs, fishermen and anyone else who depends on seafood for a living needs fish and shellfish populations to be healthy, as do the billions of people worldwide who rely on it for nutrition.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has been working for years to highlight the problems with fish and shellfish caused by overfishing and other environmental damage. Among its initiatives was the launch of the FishOnline guide to make it easy for consumers to understand which fish they could eat with a clear conscience and which should be avoided.

MCS has now begun a project which aims to reveal which restaurants seek to purchase seafood from sustainable sources and which pay little attention to the problems of overfishing.

In entering into a partnership with Fish2fork, the online sustainable restaurant guide, MCS hopes to focus attention on the importance of sustainable fishing to the restaurant sector.

Fish2fork has already rated and reviewed hundreds of restaurants across the UK according to how sustainable their seafood supplies are, and on how well they communicate their practices to diners.

In partnership with MCS, Fish2fork has now embarked on an initiative to rate chains of restaurants that have at least 50 branches in the UK.

By focussing on the chain restaurants, MCS and Fish2fork hope to identify which of them are getting their supplies from sustainable sources. They also hope it will put pressure on the industry to drive changes in behaviour – the more chefs demand guaranteed sustainability, the more suppliers and fishermen will feel they have to deliver it.

Restaurants being reviewed are asked to complete a questionnaire and once the answers are in Fish2fork verifies the information and requests further details to provide the fullest picture of the outlet’s level of sustainability.

The questionnaire is on the Fish2fork website and all restaurants, whether part of a multi-million pound corporate chain or a single family-owned establishment, that complete it will be assessed for a rating. No restaurant is charged for a rating, which Fish2fork believes is an important element of the credibility of the reviews.

In the event a restaurant ignores or refuses requests, Fish2fork will use online menus and other sources of information to make its assessment – it takes the view that the easy availability of such information is vital because it highlights the importance of sustainability to customers.

Restaurants which are deemed to be performing sustainably get a blue fish rating with 4.5 blue fish the highest yet awarded. Those that are on balance unsustainable, perhaps because they provide too little information, get a red fish rating. Because Fish2fork looks solely and in detail at seafood, some restaurants that get a high SRA score may not do quite so well.

Fish2fork has already found that simply engaging with chefs can make all the difference to how restaurants source their seafood. Some are acutely aware of overfishing, but many have little idea which stocks are under pressure and which are being fished responsibly. Providing them with the knowledge of how to choose sustainably sourced seafood, such as by clicking on to the FishOnline guide, can be an enormous help. They like to ‘do the right thing’ as much as anybody else.

It is true that there have been improvements in many fisheries around Europe in the last decade. North Sea cod, for example, is no longer the unmitigated disaster that it was in 2005, though it is still enough of a concern to remain on MCS’s ‘fish to avoid’ list.

However, the fact remains that without further significant changes in fishing pressure, many fish and shellfish populations will continue to decline. One recent study revealed that just one in five fisheries in the North East Atlantic meet a crucial benchmark of sustainability. There is still a long way to go but restaurants have the ability to make a vital contribution to making sure our seas are healthy and abundant.