How to swap fish species and preserve stocks

19 August 2011
How to swap fish species and preserve stocks

Could London become the world's first sustainable fish city? Café Spice Namasté chef-patron Cyrus Todiwala explains why restaurants across the country should consider their sourcing.

Earlier this year I was part of a team of chefs, businesses, universities and conservation charities that launched the bid for London to become the world's first sustainable fish city - a city where everyone eats only sustainable fish. The campaign was inspired by the farming and food group Sustain's success in persuading the London 2012 Olympics to serve only sustainable fish at the games.

It is my belief that sustainable sourcing of fish is the key to preventing the total decline of the marine life we depend upon so much. I have always had a passion for protection of the environment. In my view, it is our duty to ensure that all of our resources - marine or otherwise - are protected and cared for and that we adapt to the needs of the times.

Buying sustainable fish will help prevent the seas from being overfished and keep some control on pricing. Sustainable fishing guarantees the continuity of species for future generations. Furthermore, it brings to the palate a plethora of species and flavours commonly found, but not common in people's diets.

The campaign puts particular focus on the catering sector. Did you know that 50% of the fish and seafood eaten in the UK is in our restaurants, canteens and cafés? This means chefs play a vital role in this issue.

The campaign centres on a simple five-step commitment to sustainability, which has been adopted by restaurants including the D&D London group, Carluccio's, MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers's Wahaca and, of course, Café Spice Namasté. It has also gained support from a wide range of businesses, including the National Trust, the Metropolitan Police and 11 of London's universities.

There is no need to serve endangered fish. There are always alternatives, and it is the responsibility of all of us to educate ourselves. A recent survey by WWF showed 88% of EU residents thought fish should not be from endangered stocks, and 72% felt they did not have enough information to know if fish was from well managed and sustainable sources." target="_blank" rel="noreferrer"> to see great fish-swap ideas and recipes, and don't forget to sign up for the monthly newsletters.

Why swap?
There are lots of different species of tuna, a few of which are critically endangered and some of which are caught in ways that damage other marine life.
Top swaps
Try Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified albacore tuna - hand-caught in the Pacific Ocean. Albacore has very light, firm and delicately flavoured meat, and is available canned and in jars. Most canned tuna is skipjack, the most resilient species of tuna, with all stocks currently healthy - choose pole and line, handline or troll caught.

Why swap?
Salmon is sometimes farmed very intensively, leading to serious environmental problems.
Top swaps
Why not try MSC certified Alaskan wild salmon, alternatively, look out for certified organic farmed salmon or Freedom Food farmed salmon.

Why swap?
Haddock stocks have been overfished. And haddock often swim with cod (see below), meaning that haddock fisheries may catch both fish.
Top swaps
Look out for MSC certified haddock from Scotland or Norway, or try a different firm, white fish such as coley.

Why swap?
Many stocks of Atlantic cod are overfished.
Top swaps
Try a different white, flaky fish such as pollack, or the similarly named MSC certified Alaskan pollock. Coley is also a great alternative. If only cod will do, go for MSC certified cod from the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Why swap?
King or tiger prawns are usually farmed in the tropics, often very intensively and in ways which can seriously damage local communities and the environment.
Top swaps
Choose organic tiger prawns, or for a more local option, go for Scottish langoustines. Or look out for the smaller MSC certified cold-water prawns from Canada.

Why swap?
Left to their own devices, plaice can live for 50 years or more. They grow and reproduce very slowly, making them vulnerable to overfishing. Some beam trawl fisheries catch vast numbers of young plaice as ‘bycatch', and throw them back into the sea, dead.
Top swaps
More sustainable flatfish choices include flounder, dab or lemon sole (ask for fish caught by otter trawl or seine net). Or go for MSC certified plaice, or MSC certified Dover sole.

Why swap?
Big, slow-growing ‘game' fish like swordfish are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
Top swaps
Nothing similar fits the sustainability bill, but jig-caught squid stands up to strong flavours and is delicious grilled or on the barbeque - and ditto for mackerel.

Sea bass
Why swap?
Sea bass is commonly farmed in the Mediterranean, and is a carnivorous fish, raising the problem of fish-feed. Wild sea bass are often caught in pelagic trawls that can kill other sea life such as dolphins.
Top swaps
Look for line-caught sea bass or organically farmed sea bass, or try line-caught black bream, porgy or seabream.

Why swap?
Sadly, the once common skate is now critically endangered, and several other species of skates and rays are overfished.
Top swaps
Nothing really compares to the soft, fibrous texture of skates and rays, but the smaller starry, spotted and cuckoo rays are generally considered a more sustainable choice.

Why swap?
Halibut is another slow-growing, long-lived species that has been overfished to the point of being endangered.
Top swaps
As an alternative, look for MSC certified Pacific halibut - or for something different but similarly meaty and very tasty, try red, grey or tub gurnard.

Source: Sustainable Fish City

Five steps to sustainable fish
1. State your commitment
Tell your customers and the public that you are developing and implementing a policy on seafood sustainability in your business.

2 Gather information
Assess and monitor the environmental sustainability of the seafood you serve.

3 Source sustainably
Make sustainable seafood choices. This will include:
â- Avoiding the worst: Tell suppliers to remove endangered species - those rated as "fish to avoid" by the Marine Conservation Society:
â- Promote the best: Serve sustainably managed fish - Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)certified fish, and those rated as "fish to eat" by the Marine Conservation Society:
â- Improve the rest: Tell suppliers we want to serve only sustainable fish - and that there are organisations that can help them to do this, such as Good Catch: and the MSC:

4 Communicate clearly
Spread the message with customers, suppliers, caterers, employees and other key stakeholders about seafood sustainability. Consider investing in MSC Chain of Custody certification so that you can get the message to customers.

5 Influence wider progress
Support positive change for fish, fisheries and marine resources. Use your influence to encourage others to join our seafood journey and the Sustainable Fish City campaign.

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