Marine Stewardship Council ecolabel shows restaurants care about seafood sustainability

I have only recently become aware of the (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and its good work in trying to retain and enhance endangered fish and shellfish species, through a consumer awareness campaign which helps fish shoppers and restaurant patrons to identify which of the fishes they eat are green, orange or red, depending on their degree of endangeredness.   Last week I spent a most interesting day with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international organisation that encourages seafood sustainability by conducting audits of seafood products, from the catch until it appears in the supermarket or on the restaurant table.  Each of these steps is audited, which results in being awarded the MSC’s ecolabel, guaranteeing fishlovers that the fish they are eating is sustainable in its availability, as well as its fishing method, its processing, and transport to and use in restaurants as well as sales in supermarkets.

The Mission statement of the MSC is as follows:”to use our ecolabel and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis”.

The South African branch of the MSC, with the pay-off line “The best environmental choice in seafood”, hosted the workshop, which was held at Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris’ Cooks’ Playground in De Waterkant last week.   The MSC “is a global non-profit organisation promoting solutions to the problem of overfishing”.  Its blue ecolabel is an environmental standard reflecting “the world’s leading sustainability certification for wild-caught fish”.  Consumers are encouraged to choose MSC ecolabel fish products when shopping, to help in reversing the decline in fish stocks.  In South Africa brands such as I&J and Sea Harvest carry the MSC ecolabel.

Restaurants have been slow in coming on board the sustainability boat, and we are only aware of WildWoods in Hout Bay and Blowfish in Blouberg that actively promote SASSI on their menus, particularly the latter.    Those restaurants buying their fish from MSC certified fish suppliers are encouraged to display the MSC ecolabel on their menus.  This will require an annual audit by independent auditors.  At the workshop the Shoreline Café at the Two Oceans Aquarium won a free MSC sustainable seafood audit.   The work of the MSC internationally has already changed the habits of a leading chef such as Jamie Oliver, who only selects sustainable fish from the MSC website for his dishes now. Raymond Blanc, Chef Patron at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons in the UK, says about MSC:  “I passionately believe that it is up to each of us, be it consumer or chef, to make a responsible choice.  By supporting MSC, I am ensuring that as a chef, I am helping to ensure fish stocks will be replenished for generations to come.  I also hope that many more chefs will join this worthy cause”. 

Internationally, the following companies have become involved in the MSC seafood sustainability programme:  Walmart and Asda (pledged to be 100% certified for fresh and frozen fish by next year); Carrefour; the Dutch Retail Association, representing 99% of retailers in Holland, has committed to 99% of wild seafood sold will be MSC certified by next year;  Sainsbury’s; Marks and Spencer; Aldi; Dansk; Compass; Sodexo UK; Iglo; Bird’s Eye, John West; KLM; and many more. 

Internationally 5500 product lines from 1100 companies carry the MSC ecolabel, in 66 countries, at an estimated retail value of $1,5 billion.   In July 92 fisheries around the world were MSC-standard certified, representing 4 million metric tons of fish, with another 120 fisheries undergoing assessment, representing a further 3 million metric tons.

The MSC certification programme has helped SASSI in its work, according to Dr Samantha Petersen of SASSI: “The MSC certification provided a platform and an incentive for us to work together. Prior to that, the industry was more suspicious of us.  Once MSC status was on the cards, it gave us a common goal and opened up a dialogue that was not there before.” 

After some demonstrations by Jenny, the workshop participants grouped into teams, and I was lucky to be paired with Ingrid Gold from Caxton Magazines and Eat Out reviewer Greg Landman.  Greg is clearly a creative cook, especially when I saw him add honey to the hake he prepared for our team!   It was delicious, and it was a good way to get involvement by the participants.  Jenny’s team had prepared the most amazing seafood and salad buffet, with salmon and mussels, and we were spoilt with the wonderful looking display and tasty food.  I loved Jenny’s paper thin crispy fried butternut slices.  Then followed the most delicious seared tuna, as well as a dessert. 

What made the lunch really special was the mix of persons at our table.  Martin Purves, the Southern Africa Programme Manager for the MSC; Odette Herbert, a photographer and blogger; chefs from Bodega at Dornier wine estate, the Arabella at Kleinmond and the Shoreline Café at the Two Oceans Aquarium; and Ingrid and Greg. 

Marine Stewardship Council.   www.msc.org  Tel (021) 551-0620.  The MSC also has offices in the UK (its head office), as well as in Japan, Australia, and the USA.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:  www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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