Fishing for solutions

24 November 2006
Fishing for solutions

Despite the current crisis in cod stocks, it is still possible to continue serving fish in your restaurant with a clear conscience. James Simpson of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) explains how.

Recent news stories have called for a complete ban on cod fishing to prevent the collapse of North Sea cod stocks, along with drastic cuts in the harvesting of other species to prevent their collapse by 2048.

There is, however, a positive side to this story. The same scientific paper that warned that fish stocks could collapse by the middle of the century also highlighted sustainable fishing programmes as one way of reversing the trend. This is good news for anyone selling fish as you can help by considering what you offer to customers on your menu.

The Marine Stewardship Council is an independent, international, charity seeking to harness consumer purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible use of the world's most important renewable food source - the sea.

The MSC's blue eco-label can be found on nearly 450 fish products worldwide; 75 of these are available at major retailers, foodservice companies and some restaurants in the UK. They include fish fingers, rock lobster tails and wild salmon. There is even a sustainably-caught Pacific cod.

The MSC's assessment process is the only marine environmental standard that is fully consistent with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's guidelines for eco-labels. The science behind it is equally impressive - independent accredited certification bodies assess each fishery and return to do a check-up every year. There is also a strict check for traceability that guarantees any fish you buy with the MSC eco-label has come from a fishery that is certified as sustainable.

If you would like to get involved, the first step is to ask your suppliers for fish that has been certified as sustainable by the MSC. You will need to buy from a supplier that has been certified for traceability.

In MSC terms this is called 'Chain of Custody' and there is a list of certified suppliers on the MSC website. These include foodservice providers like Brakes and Young's Bluecrest, who hold Chain of Custody certificates that allow them to sell eco-labelled MSC certified fish products. They also include some of the certified fisheries that may allow you to buy directly from the people who catch the fish.

Using the MSC label will reassure your customers about the sustainability of your fish dishes. To do this, you need to get your own business certified for Chain of Custody and you can then use the MSC label on your menu to promote responsible fish sourcing.

Chain of Custody certification is a simple, independent check of the systems you use to buy and track your products from your supplier to the customer. This traceability audit ensures the credibility of the eco-label and safeguards its reputation. None of the restaurants that have applied so far have had to make huge changes to qualify.

Once you've got your Chain of Custody certificate you'll need to talk to our foodservice team to allow you to display the MSC label. They will be happy to talk you through the process and help you with making the most of the marketing opportunities that using the label offers.

So far, the system has paid great dividends for the first restaurants and hotels in the UK to try it. The Place Camber Sands and Pissaros - both on the south coast - have found that their MSC-labelled sustainable mackerel, dover sole and herring dishes have been enormously popular.

To find out more about the benefits that that MSC programme might bring to your fish menu, please visit our website or ask for the commercial team on 020 7811 3300.

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