UK: RESTAURANTS TAKE HUGE LEAP TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
Added: Mon 5th Dec 11
The number of British restaurants choosing to serve sustainable seafood and dropping fish from overfished stocks has increased dramatically over the last two years, according to a Fish2fork survey.
More than 45 per cent of restaurants improved their rating in the first re-review of British restaurants by Fish2fork, the campaigning fish restaurant guide, since it was launched in 2009.
Among them are some of the biggest names in cuisine, including Scotts in London’s Mayfair and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire, but also locally recognised restaurants, such as the Porthminster Beach Café in St Ives.
The survey results are believed to be the first firm evidence of changing attitudes and priorities in the restaurant sector, following the creation of Fish2fork as a campaigning online restaurant guide in the wake of the release of the award-winning documentary film, The End of the Line, which highlighted the way the seas were being emptied.
Research shows 82 per of the world’s fisheries are, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, fully exploited, overexploited, in decline or in recovery from overfishing.
Fish2fork’s aim was to drive change by judging restaurants on where their fish came from and their approach to sustainable sourcing.
Of the 443 restaurants Fish2fork has re-reviewed since the 2009 launch, more than two improved their rating for every one that slipped backwards. In all, 202 restaurants (45 per cent) improved their rating, 89 (20 per cent) got worse and 152 (34 per cent) remained the same.
Caprice Holdings, which owns and runs several leading restaurants including The Ivy, J Sheekey and Scotts, is one of the organizations that now place sustainability at the top of their agenda.
Their seven top London restaurants now all score 4.5 blue fish, the highest score Fish2fork has yet awarded. To do so they had to improve the level of information available to customers and to take hard-pressed species, including the endangered eel and blonde ray, off their menus.
Tim Hughes, the chef director at Caprice Holdings, said public attitudes to fish were changing. Little more than a decade ago he experimented with species such as pollock and gurnard but found little appetite for them, whereas now there was a demand for them and for other replacements for over-fished species such as cod.
“We are very conscious about overfishing and discards. It’s our duty to try as hard as possible to know where we get our fish from and to get it from sustainable sources,” he said.
Restaurants with Michelin stars have done better than average in improving their marine sustainability ratings, arguably a reflection of their understanding of the better-resourced restaurateur’s ability to appoint staff to deal with sustainability as well as other compliance issues.
Of the 22 Michelin-starred restaurants that have been rated by Fish2fork, 16 improved their record, four got worse, one remained the same and one was new to the reviewing process.
Charles Clover, founder of the Fish2fork website and author of The End of The Line, said: “To get 45 per cent of restaurants we reviewed last time improving their scores in two years is a phenomenal figure. Even though a few have slipped back, they are outnumbered more than two to one by those who have grasped that sustainability is now important to consumers of seafood. At the moment the UK is showing the rest of Europe what can be done if restaurateurs create a demand for sustainably caught fish.”
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “Fish2fork is doing a great job of injecting a sense of responsibility over fish sourcing into the vital restaurant sector which is of course a massive consumer of fish. It is independent and uncompromising and by putting us restaurateurs on the spot makes fish sustainability an issue we can’t ignore without the risk of losing business.”
Fish experts at the Marine Conservation Society, which compiles lists of seafood species that should be avoided by consumers because of overfishing and other problems, were delighted by the shift towards sustainability.
Richard Harrington, of the MCS, said: "The overall rise in sustainability ratings for the restaurants and chains is a genuine step forward.”
In 2009 only two restaurants – Am Birlinn and Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles – managed to get a rating as high as 4.5 blue fish but in 2011 the number has risen to 27. They include The Captain’s Galley in Scrabster, the Porthminster Beach Cafe in St Ives, Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons as well as the entire Caprice Holdings group.
A factor that has helped the drive to sustainability since Fish2fork launched in 2009 is the decision by chefs at the Relais & Chataux hotel and restaurant chain to issue a six-point pledge in which they recognised “devastating levels of excessive fishing” and promised to stop serving bluefin and other endangered seafood species, and to buy from sustainable stocks.
Fish2fork’s reviews are on a downloadable iPhone app, compiled jointly with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s FishFight, which has already been downloaded by nearly 100,000 people. A new update is now available.