Fishing for a better policy

21 October 2011
Fishing for a better policy

It's easy to identify the problems in fish purchasing, but not so easy to find sustainable solutions, says Richard Muir, owner of Café Fish in Edinburgh

The debate surrounding the European common fisheries policy is heating up, and not before time.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's campaign to highlight the manipulation of the rules has brought the issue of discarding to the fore and highlighted the problems in policing a policy that has failed to address its primary objective - the sustainability of fish stocks in our seas.

However, the wider implications of sustainability in our industry sector stretch beyond what the European trawlers land. Restaurants that sell fish and shellfish are increasingly under pressure to demonstrate that their purchasing and supplier networks can deliver produce sourced from sustainable sources.

We are all aware of the Marine Stewardship Council and the accreditation system that evaluates fisheries, wholesalers and retailers to establish best practice.

Accreditation at restaurant level is not cheap - I know as I'm in that process right now! But it's real benefit is that it makes you think and question what you buy, and from where. Sustainability must become part of your thinking, and you will start to see the benefits when you look at the structure of your menus.

The cost to the wholesale network that supports our restaurant industry is considerably more expensive - not just in fees but in the set up, procurement, processing and supply of goods to the end-user.

We use a number of small suppliers such as Guy Grieve from the Ethical Shellfish Company on Mull, and Maddy and Charlie Mac­liesh from Island Divers in Kyle of Lochalsh. There is no way that these small diver fisheries will ever be able to afford the costs for MSC accreditation.

Furthermore, there appears to be little recognition of what an important role they, and many others like them, play in sustainability of our shellfish stocks on the west coast. Their methods involve no mechanical extraction, no pollution, while fish are hand dived and creel caught. Only what is needed is harvested - young shells are moved to protected habitats where the dredgers cant get in and their eggs are distributed in safe waters.

They have a genuine and very passionate concern about sustainability and in my book are first class ambassadors for the cause.

What is most worrying is that an outrageous volume of our shells end up in Europe because its cheaper to export than to supply within Scotland.

We run the risk that sustainability is not actually understood, particularly as accreditation as it currently stands is seen as the only acceptable badge. We as an industry need to support all sustainable fisheries whether they are accredited or not.

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