Tracing change on the water and in our restaurants

By George Clark, Commercial Manager, Marine Stewardship Council

One of the things that first struck me when I started working at the MSC was the level of knowledge and sheer breadth of the organisation, when it comes to providing a workable solution for the fish we put on our plates. Realising the scale of the whole industry has also been an eye opener too. It helped me to understand why the MSC needs to be the organisation it is – big in scale and rich in knowledge – to manage such a complex topic and rigorous traceability system.

To highlight this, something I didn’t know before starting work here was that fish and seafood remains the number one traded food commodity globally, at a value of over US$130 billion in 2013 – more than tea, coffee and sugar combined. Coupled with this huge scale, the complexity of hundreds of different species, fisheries, methods, nations, and it makes the sustainability of fish and the way to measure it, an extremely difficult task.

Luckily the MSC has been on the case for years now and the release of our new fishery standard this year shows how the organisation is constantly moving to make sure it is the most relevant, robust and applicable sustainability standard for wild capture fish on the planet. It has been called the ‘gold standard’ and the most recognised mark internationally. That means shoppers and diners have a straightforward way to select products and dishes that adhere to their own ethical outlook; they simply look for the label. The result of this choice is direct support of fisheries whose sustainability have been tested and verified in terms of their stock, environmental impact and management, and is so on an ongoing basis.

Having worked at the SRA for some time I saw first-hand how the MSC was perceived and implemented by the industry. The key questions that I was asked as an account manager when speaking to restaurants about certification were: What do I need to do? How much is it? What fish is MSC? These questions have become a lot easier to answer now that I’m in the job, but what is more satisfying is that the answers to these questions have changed, and the accessibility of the programme is much improved.

We’ve launched a new traceability standard for consumer facing businesses like restaurants, chippies and fishmongers. It is more streamlined and appropriate for the types of businesses that use it. It’s been purpose built for restaurants and, as such, fits in with typical kitchen systems and protocols rather than creating new ones. Having been a chef myself for a number of years this is a refreshing change and one that I have seen work well already through the certification of BaxterStorey, who piloted the system late last year. Auditing time and the level of auditing for restaurants has also be reduced as a result and that will directly impact on the cost of certification.

I’ve also seen vast improvements on the fish side of things too. Naturally, as an ex-chef I’m still a very keen cook and one of my most enjoyable tasks is making sure that the supply chain is working as best it can so that chefs can easily buy MSC certified fish. Ingredients get chefs excited and if you can increase what is available as a certified sustainable product, you’re making progress in the right direction.

In the UK we’ve got some fantastic MSC fisheries and it’s been brilliant to see these become more and more prominent on the market over the past year. MSC certifiedhaddock fishermen with catch and certification certificate Scottish haddock, for example, is now widely available in the UK. I was at the recently-opened Rockfish in Brixham last week and was very happy to have some MSC certified fresh Scottish haddock for lunch. A year ago this wouldn’t have been making it all the way down to Devon but now the supply chain has matured and a number of fish and chip shops in the South of England have access to this great Scottish fishery through a fully certified chain.

The fishery itself recently committed to reassessment which is great news for fish and chip shops and restaurants in the UK. Other species from Scotland like Shetland brown crab (which Wahaca have just put on their new summer menu), mussels and scallops are now readily available with M&J Seafood launching new product lines this year. It’s not just the UK species that are becoming prominent in the market either. You can find Spencer Gulf King prawns from Australia at Feng Sushi and Olley’s Fish Experience aMSC crabnd fresh Alaskan salmon and Tristan da Cunha lobster on the Selfridges fish counter run by Southbank Fresh Fish.

Today I’m heading north to speak to students who eat MSC certified fish in their canteen every day, meet with some newly certified fish and chip shops and catch up with a supplier who has been integral to the increased supply of Scottish MSC haddock across the UK. All inspiring stories in their own right and all collectively contributing to what is ultimately the great cause. All three prove how by making the right choices at one end of the supply chain, and with some hard work from everyone in between, consumers are helping to create long term sustainability of fisheries on a global scale.

Our oceans are by no means out of the woods yet but the progress that fisheries have made so far and the MSC’s role in this is truly inspiring. This World Oceans Day I can confidently say that the outlook is positive and with the kind of progress I’ve witnessed over the past year, the future is looking bright?and blue!


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