The best way to dip your toes into the world of sustainable seafood is to chat with the people important to your business. Your customers might already be asking if your seafood is local, or how it was caught. Your staff might be noticing trends as well, like diners choosing innovative seafood dishes over classics like tuna or salmon. Fellow chefs are also a great resource to check with and share research and tips on sourcing sustainable seafood. Or it’s up to you to take the lead, start exercising your trend-setting sustainable seafood muscle and spread the word!
People are taking seafood sustainability seriously. The major retailers and brands are getting in on the picture by making sustainable pledges and offering MSC-certified products. For example retail chains Woolworths and Coles have both announced sustainable seafood sourcing policies and ALDI has made commitments to selling MSC certified products too. The brand Safcol only sources 100% pole and line caught tuna for their canned tuna and Greenseas have agreed to ban the use of Fish Aggregation Devices (FAD) for catching tuna by 2015. Over 30,000 people have downloaded AMCS’ Sustainable Seafood Guide smartphone app and the number of MSC-certified products available in Australia is increasing rapidly. Leading seafood company, John West, health supplements business, Blackmores, and salmon producer, Tassal, have partnered with WWF to implement sustainable sourcing policies.
In response to this growing trend the WA Government has pledged $14.5 million for the state’s fisheries to be assessed against the MSC standard for sustainable fishing. There’s a good chance that these same people who are using Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide or buying MSC-certified products in the store are searching for restaurants that share their environmental values.
Engaging customers in the ethics behind your business is a great way to add value to your customer’s experience. Why not give diners something to talk about by providing them with your sustainability commitment in the menu and encouraging staff to chat with customers about why your seafood menu items are a better choice for our oceans. Social media is a great place to start the conversation and get feedback on your policies. When you open the dialogue with your customers, you are creating an avenue of engagement that blossoms and grows.
A great way to get feedback on seafood is to start engaging the people your customers interact with most – your wait staff. Ask them to take notice of what customers are saying about seafood. Consumer awareness around sustainable seafood looks set to increase and diners are becoming more and more willing to branch out and try new and different foods.
Another way to involve your staff is to introduce them to your seafood buying choices. Give them stories to tell customers, like the name of the bay or inlet that your mussels come from, where your fish was caught, or why you’ve chosen to source pole and line caught produce. In the same way that people are interested in the provenance of their steak, you can start to tell the story of the fish’s journey to the plate. Discuss your buying choices at staff meetings, and provide training on what you’ve learned about sustainable seafood or direct them to this website to learn more.
Suppliers are your link to fisheries, and a direct way to influence the source of the seafood you want. If they’re worth their salt, they’ll also be interested in improving their buying patterns, as the future of their business depends on ensuring there are fish for the future. You can work together to improve your choices and get innovative items that may be hard to find. Talk to them, and see what sustainable products they can offer or what types of information they can share (‘what’s the species, how was it caught and where did it come from’). Get them to talk to the fisheries they source from and discuss your concerns and requirements. Fisheries respond to demand, and working with your supplier to replace unsustainable items with better choices will influence the way seafood is being caught.
This may require a bit of innovation on your part. Sometimes sourcing more sustainable options mean teaming up with another restaurant to share a product that a supplier can only get in larger quantities. Sometimes your idea of sustainability may differ from your supplier’s. You may come up against cost issues, seasonality or access, but it’s worth the effort and the journey. The most important thing is opening up a dialogue with your supplier, finding a position you’re comfortable with and asking for more sustainable options in the future.
With a plethora of cooking shows and celebrity cook books scattered across the media, chefs are in the public eye more than ever. You have a huge ability to influence food trends. Talk about sustainable seafood with your colleagues to see what they’re noticing in their restaurants. Share ideas and inspire other chefs to get on board as well. The goal of the sustainable seafood movement is to influence the market and reduce fishing pressure on declining species, so call up your friends, go for a beer and start the conversation.
You can use this site as a jumping-off point. Maybe you want to share ideas of little-known species that have a big impact on the plate. Or perhaps you want to take advantage of that competitive streak chefs are known for and start a sustainable seafood challenge. Working with other chefs will raise the profile of the whole issue, and increase the profile of sustainable seafood.
Read on to continue your journey to sustainable seafood: F I S “H – Have a Go“