If you want sustainable seafood, tell us what it is
May 01 2011 Charles Clover
Sustainable lemon sole served at the Marriott
Europeans want to buy sustainable seafood but they don’t know how to get it. That was the result of a poll carried out earlier this month by WWF and carried out in 14 countries. The first part of that statement, which shows that 78 per cent of Europeans want a reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, should be a reminder to politicians of the strength of support that exists for reforming a policy that has been seen to fail and which remains dominated by disgraceful vested interests (see last year’s Community position on bluefin tuna quotas if you need any further proof of that).
A less comfortable message that comes out of the poll is for the environmental community themselves, who should be worried that European consumers don’t know how to get sustainable seafood or have adequate information to find it with. We at Fish2fork know how confusing it can be when official government sources, fishing organisations, retailers and restaurants make claims of sustainability for their fish which cannot be supported in fact. But the fact that such chaos exists is partly the fault of the environmental community – and it is time this was said.
There are, around Europe, some excellent seafood guides. There is one compiled in UK by the Marine Conservation Society, due to update its Good Fish Guide and fishonline guides this week. We have found this to be the best if you want to work out from the latest scientific information whether a particular fish stock is overfished and whether one should be eating it. A guide of similar quality, though less useful to the process of rating restaurants that Fish2fork is engaged in is that compiled by the North Sea Foundation in the Netherlands. Where we found great variability in accuracy and relevance was in some of the guides compiled by WWF member organisations for other countries across Europe. Some, like WWF Switzerland’s and more recently WWF Belgium’s, were based on the most up to date assessments and gave advice that was consistent with other international guides. Some, particularly in France and Spain where Fish2fork has been working recently, did not. We found, over the past 18 months or so, that the stock assessments the guides in those countries were based upon were at times up to four years out of date.
We at Fish2fork are convinced that, more than ever, seafood guides have an important role to play in helping consumers and the food service industry to source sustainable seafood. But this seems to be believed without total conviction by some environmental organisations in Europe – or at least you would think so by the amount of funding and effort they are putting into their seafood guides. There is no equivalent in Europe, the largest market for fish on the entire planet, of the seafood guide compiled by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the United States. So, if an anchovy comes from the Mediterranean, for instance, you can't find it on the MCS guide, for the justifiable reason that they don't cover the Mediterranean, but you will struggle to find an assessment of Mediterranean anchovy stocks, compared to those in the Bay of Biscay, by WWF national organisations in France, Spain or Italy. Yet it is in those countries that such information would be most useful to the consumer.
It is high time there was an independent seafood guide, with consistent standards, that covered the whole of Europe - and the environmental community needs to get together and work out how to produce one. The lack of such a guide is preventing consumers from making choices that might reform whole markets – and holding up the business of giving due credit to retailers and (in our case) restaurants who seek to source their seafood sustainably. We at Fish2fork believe that it is time the environmental community put its money - and effort - where its mouth is when it comes to sustainable seafood.
« Return to the blog index
1 Responses to "If you want sustainable seafood, tell us what it is"
Kevin from Hong Kongsays:
THE BEST QUALITY FISH COME FROM SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES!!!
My son has just done a school project on attitudes towards sustainable fishing in Hong Kong. He found quality, not sustainability was a consumer priority. One of the top retail outlets he visited said they sourced for quality, not sustainability and consumers would be willing to pay more for quality, not sustainability – but in their words, THE BEST QUALITY FISH COME FROM SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES, which was why they only sourced from sustainable fisheries. The link is obvious and the message is simple – if consumers want to eat quality fish, they should make sure the fish they buy come from sustainable fisheries.