Seafood Summit: Chefs think green

By

Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
February 1, 2010

Editor’s note: SeafoodSource Contributing Editor Lindsey Partos and SeaFood Business Associate Editor James Wright are in Paris this week covering the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit.

Swift access to accurate fisheries data must be an integral element in today’s seafood supply chain, aiding seafood buyers to make sustainable decisions, according to Dr. Malcolm MacGarvin.

Speaking at the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit in Paris on Tuesday, the British biologist is a co-founder of Pisces Responsible Fish Restaurants (Pisces-RFR), a restaurant-led pilot project that aims to help chefs source from sustainable fisheries.

“An important part of this process is the citizens’ Right to Know, inspired by U.S. anti-pollution work. A management body has the responsibility to provide information on fisheries to people, be they chefs, buyers or consumer,” said MacGarvin.

For MacGarvin, the data search should take no longer than 10 minutes, and it should not be necessary to push for information. “It should be convention,” he said.

Piloted largely by London restaurants, the two-pronged project evaluates fishermen and restaurants on sustainability, fish quality and fair trading criteria. Caroline Bennett, managing director of Japanese restaurant chain Moshi Moshi and co-founder of Pisces-RPR, covers the land element of the project, while MacGarvin takes to the sea.
 
The project initially acts as a conduit, linking small groups of fishermen to clusters of restaurants. “We select around five to 10 fishermen from across the British Isles. This gives a geographical spread to reduce supply problems. For example, if the weather is bad in Scotland, chefs can still receive supplies from elsewhere,” said Bennett.

In terms of buyers, the project locates restaurants geographically relatively close to each other to create “a community partnership, and a sense of collaboration.”

“We then encourage the chefs to buy a mixture of fish, not a single species. Instead of 10 kilos of mackerel and 10 kilos of sole, for example, we might encourage them to take on board 10 kilos of flatfish. This helps the fishermen to reduce their discards,” explained Bennett.

Once the small community of restaurants and fishermen exceed a certain critical mass, the project spins off to create the next fishermen-chef cluster.

Bennett cited the success story of one of the fishermen involved in the project who from one year to the next caught the same quantity of fish, but doubled his revenue.

In terms of cost and pricing, the project encourages a “fair and reasonable” price for the fish, locked in for a defined period. Sometimes this may be “over the odds,” but the price remains stable and resistant to seasonal price hikes.

But pricing has also thrown up a problem area for the project with certain chefs trying to influence the best practice of the fishermen. “We found some chefs very quickly started to prescribe what they wanted, negotiating on size and price,” said Bennett.
 
A further sticky patch cited by the co-founder is logistics. While, for example, Sussex is a close, coastal fishing area to London restaurants, inadequate transportation links results in the restaurants continuing to source from Cornish waters.

Using the Food and Agriculture Organization Code Technical guidelines and evaluations as the foundation, the project ranks the participating restaurants’ portfolio on a one-to-five scale that reflects the state of the fishery and the “target reference point” — number one is worst practice, poor is number two, three is transitional, four reflects good and five is the gold standard “best practice.”
 
The project also scores fisheries in terms of the wider environmental impact, for example, the effect of gear, the fuel use per kilo of fish landed or selectivity versus discards.

While today restaurant portfolios would see a plethora of low numbers, MacGarvin remained optimistic about the future, telling conference attendees that over a period of 10 to 15 years restaurants could reach the “four to five mark.”

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