Interest in sustainable fish has soared in 2011. Much of that is down to Hugh's Fish Fight campaign to reverse the EU laws that see half of all fish caught in the North Sea thrown back - dead.
More than 750,000 people have signed up to the campaign. Fearnley-Whittingstall called on restaurants to serve alternatives to the staple fish favourites, most notably with his mackerel bap. Hundreds have done just that.
It's the ideal moment to start sourcing and serving sustainable fish. Even before Fish Fight, 90% of diners told the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) they wanted restaurants to source more sustainable seafood.
The easiest way for any restaurant to start is by drawing up a sustainable seafood policy and communicating it to staff, suppliers and customers.
Sourcing seafood sustainably is not a new trend and serious groundwork has been carried out to make it easier for restaurants to acquire all their seafood from sustainable sources. However, it does still remain a complex issue with numerous certification and accreditation schemes. There are basics to which restaurants can adhere, like taking fish or shellfish off the menu that appears on the Marine Conservation Society's (MCS) Fishonline "Fish to Avoid" list.
Sourcing and supplying sustainable fish is not the preserve of fine-dining restaurants. After all, nearly a fifth of all fish sold in the out-of-home market comes from a fish and chip shop. Two such businesses, one in Wales, the other in Scotland, are genuine sustainable pioneers and say business has never been better.
Danny White-Meir, from Enochs in Llandudno, recently launched the Enochs Sustainability Project (ESP). He is committed to looking at the fish the restaurant serves, taking a more in-depth look at different species, where it has come from and how it was caught.
Having had a positive response to their mackerel baps, they went a step further and now have accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
"We have a great rapport with our suppliers who understand our needs, so when we procure fish we are looking at issues such as: where it has come from [wild or aquaculture], how it is fished, is it a species which is plentiful, is it commonly seen as a species which is under used, is it local and is it in season?," White-Meir says. "And can we sell it to our customers. It gives us great satisfaction to know that we offer sustainable alternatives and it shows with an increase in sales."
The Bay Fish and Chips in Stonehaven recently became the first chippy to receive MSC chain of custody for its haddock, working with a local supplier in Aberdeen. Owner Calum Richardson insists the process is not difficult and is happy to share his template with any other restaurant keen to do it.
"It's made a real difference," he says. "More and more people are talking about it. We stand tall and proud and are keen to promote it. We really do walk the walk now."
five ways to serve sustainable fish
1 Draw up a sustainable fish sourcing policy and promote to staff and customers. A sample policy can be found at www.mcsuk.org
2 Talk to your supplier about the source and species of the fish and fishing method
3 Use the Marine Conservation Society's "Fish to Avoid" list to see what fish you should be taking off your menu and select from the "Fish to Eat" list
4 Inspire customers by trialling different varieties with daily specials
5 Ensure chefs have the skills and training to work with all seafood species
The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a not-for-profit organisation helping restaurants become more sustainable.www.thesra.org