Navigating the choppy waters of seafood sustainability can be perilous for chefs and indeed anyone tasked with the responsibility of getting fish from ocean to plate.
A list of considerations about as long as the proverbial ‘one that got away’, provides a constant challenge. Just as you think you’ve mastered factors like the health of stocks, seasonality and catch method, they change – like the tide.
The Marine Conservations Society’s (MCS) Good Fish Guide is exactly that. But, reflecting the reality of what’s happening in our seas, it changes on a regular basis. As an example of the level of alertness required, the perennial favourite Dover sole is a sound, if pricey, choice, if caught in the western Channel, Cornwall or North Sea. If, however, it’s been trawled from the Irish Sea you should give it a wide berth as it’s red rated ‘5’.
For foodservice businesses with a remote connection to their seafood, for whom traceability is harder to confirm, the issues can be much more troublesome. Around 8% of fish in UK chip shops is not what it seems according to the Food Standards Agency, with many customers tucking into catfish when they’d ordered cod.
One chef with a keen eye on sustainability is Rakesh Ravindran, Group Development & Training Chef at Cinnamon Club which has an extensive range of seafood dishes on the menu. He admits though that he can struggle to keep up to speed with the constant changes.
Rakesh adds: “It is very tricky for chefs to understand and keep on top of what we should and shouldn’t be serving. Haddock is a good example. We’re told that Scottish haddock is not sustainable but Norwegian is.”
Rakesh and his team follow the advice of the Marine Conservation Society and their suppliers. On the wall in the kitchen hangs the latest version of the MCS’s Good Fish Guide and if it’s not on the list it won’t make it onto the menu as one of the half dozen or so seafood dishes, including the current range which includes crab, plaice and farmed salmon, seabass and cobia.
Cobia, you say? Yes, cobia. Two years ago, when Cinnamon Club was about to re-open after a major refurb, Rakesh was looking for fresh dishes for the new menu.
“We’d been using farmed fish for a while, on the advice of our suppliers who provide us with all the assurances we need about the practices being used. We’ve always liked the consistency of the farmed fish and customer feedback is good too.”
In conversation, one of his suppliers recommended Cobia. Always willing to try something new, Rakesh had them bring a couple of fish to the restaurant for some testing. A successful trial run on the specials board followed with rave diner reviews and Rakesh was won over.
“It’s really versatile and very nutritious. I think it’s quite like swordfish, meaty but not dry. We have used it in several ways because it also holds its shape really well whether it goes in the tandoor or we flash fry it.”
Right now, diners can enjoy cobia on the starter menu at Cinnamon Club, marinated with cumin and fennel, ginger, garlic and yoghurt, cooked on skewers in the tandoor and then served with chutney.
“It’s great because it comes with good pedigree in terms of how its farmed; offshore with the feed monitored, it has the right accreditations and it gets to us fresh from Panama within 48 hours.”
A native species to the Caribbean, the fish are sustainably raised in a unique open ocean environment, 12 kilometres offshore fully submerged at depths of over 75 metres, where the waters are deep and pure.
In 2018 Open Blue, who farm the Cobia, were named Seafood Champion for Vision in the SeaWeb Awards 2018, for its ongoing commitment to revolutionize the mariculture industry by moving it into the open ocean, far away from sensitive near shore ecosystems.
Farmed seafood already accounts for half of the total volume of seafood consumed around the world, and it is going to play a vital role in meeting a growing population’s increasing demand for protein over the coming decades. But, of course, if it is not done properly it can have negative impacts on local ecosystems and communities. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s robust standards cover 15 species and they set strict requirements to encourage farmers to minimise these impacts. Here are five things to think about when you’re looking for responsible-sourced seafood.
Biodiversity is vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems, and this is something that responsible aquaculture producers must think about. For example, shrimp farming can result in the clearing of mangrove forests, which protect biodiversity. The ASC shrimp standard states that farms must not clear mangrove forests, and in some cases requires that they restore lost mangroves.
Responsible farming is not just about the environment – there are also social aspects, and these include treating workers fairly. All of the ASC standards impose strict requirements based on the core principles of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and all ASC-certified farms are safe and equitable working environments where workers have a decent wage and regulated working hours.
Another social aspect to responsible aquaculture is the impact on the local communities in which farms are based. These impacts can be wide-ranging, and to ensure they are addressed the ASC standards require farms to regularly and meaningfully consult local communities and indigenous people and have effective policies for resolving any issues that arise.
The impacts of aquaculture can be felt far beyond the farm, and it is important that farms only use feed that is responsibly sourced – this is why ASC standards require farms to minimise the use of wild fish as a feed ingredient, and full traceability to a responsibly managed source. There are also requirements ensuring the responsible sourcing of ingredients such as soy.
If fish aren’t kept healthy, it’s not just bad from an animal welfare point of view – they are also more likely to require medicines which can contribute to antibacterial resistance. ASC standards requires fish health management plans, biosecurity management and strict monitoring of fish health indicators. This is better for the fish, the farmers, and the rest of us.