UK menus failing to convey progress made in sustainable seafood sourcing

Published on
January 25, 2017

Restaurant and pub chains in the United Kingdom have been successfully scaling up their efforts when it comes to sourcing sustainable seafood, but continue to struggle when it comes to informing their customers of these endeavors, finds a new study of the sector.

The latest assessment of high street restaurant chains and pubs undertaken by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and online restaurant rating organization Fish2fork claims that establishing where these outlets’ seafood comes from is one of the biggest barriers for diners trying to eat sustainable fish.

Eleven outlets were assessed on the sustainability of the seafood that features on their menus with Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia coming out on top, closely followed by Harry Ramsden’s, Beefeater, Côte Brasserie and Carluccio’s.

Of those evaluations, Prezzo performed worst with Wetherspoons and Itsu only faring slightly better.  

A key problem was that even when pubs or restaurant buy seafood that is caught or produced responsibly, it can be difficult for them to impart where efforts to seek out sustainable supplies have been made to their diners.

They need to bolster traceability and do more to tell their diners about the seafood they are serving, said Samuel Stone, head of fisheries and aquaculture at MCS.

“When eating out on the high street, diners need to know they aren’t going to be consuming seafood that is red rated or listed as endangered. Telling diners where and how seafood has been produced and using the various seafood eco-labels available is key to this,” said Stone.

In this assessment, restaurants were rated on a scale of 5 red fish (the worst) to 5 blue fish (the best). With 5 red fish at the bottom of the scale, ratings improve, half a fish at a time, to rise to 4.5 red fish, 4 red fish and so on until 0.5 red fish. From here ratings rise from 0.5 blue fish to 5 blue fish.

Eight restaurant chains surveyed over the last 10 months achieved Fish2fork blue fish ratings, which marked an improvement from the 2015 assessment in which seven out of 12 used seafood from overfished areas of the sea or failed to be transparent about the origins of their fish and shellfish.

During the latest ratings process, six of the 11 restaurants changed their sourcing practices to be more sustainable including Cafe Rouge which achieved a 3.5 blue fish rating and Bella Italia was rated 3 blue fish, making them highly sustainable restaurants.

“It is fantastic that some of the U.K.’s most popular restaurants really are making an effort to seek out sustainable sources of seafood, often as a result of engaging with Fish2fork,” said Tim Glover, managing director of Fish2fork. “But we are troubled that it is so often difficult for diners to know how sustainable a restaurant’s seafood is. We would urge restaurants to make a greater effort to make it clear on their menus where their seafood comes from, though we recognize that it can be difficult for them to get detailed information from suppliers. Sustainability is a vital ingredient in any dish, but diners shouldn’t be left to guess whether it’s there or not.”

Tim Doubleday, chief financial officer at the Casual Dining Group, which includes Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia, said the company recognized “the profound responsibility” all restaurant businesses have in sourcing fish ethically and sustainably, and that it was striving to be recognized as a leader in this area. 

“In partnership with government bodies and respected organizations such as Fish2fork, we have worked hard to scrutinize our supply chain, systems and processes to categorically ensure sustainable sourcing across all our brands – Café Rouge, Bella Italia, Las Iguanas and La Tasca. We are delighted to be recognized in this way by Fish2fork and look forward to building on our partnership in the future,” said Doubleday.

Other restaurant chains praised for their level of seafood sustainability were Harry Ramsden's, Côte Brasserie, Beefeater, Brewers Fayre, Carluccio’s and Eat.

Fish2fork and MCS will assess more restaurant chains later this year.

Transparency over the sources of king prawns (shrimp) and seabass were the types of seafood used by chain restaurants giving the biggest causes of concern. Wetherspoons and Prezzo both failed to make it clear, either on their menus or direct to Fish2fork, where their king prawns derived. Itsu has prawns on its menus but fails even to say what type are used. Similarly, Prezzo served seabass but failed to make clear if it was farmed or wild.

A lack of transparency and information makes it impossible for the public to be sure the seafood being served is from well-managed fisheries and fish farms, said the assessment.

The latest assessment’s ratings were as follows:

Cafe Rouge – 3.5 blue

Bella Italia – 3 blue

Harry Ramsden’s – 2.5 blue

Beefeater – 2.5 blue

Côte Brasserie – 2.5 blue

Carluccio’s – 2.5 blue

Brewers Fayre – 2 blue

EAT – 2 blue

Wetherspoons – 0.5 red

Itsu – 0.5 red

Prezzo – 1 red

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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