Raymond Blanc addresses the Sustainable Fish City Forum 2013

RB president of the Sustainable Rstaurant Association & Ambassador for Sustainable Fish Cities 

Welcome to our second sustainable fish forum. Once again, I would like to thank each of you for having given up your personal time to discuss those important issues of sustainability, and supporting sustainable fisheries. 

I strongly believe that our industry must be at the forefront of change to insure that what we buy,  comes from sustainable sources.

First, I would like to make you aware that our industry is the largest consumer of fish in this country. 50% of the fish eaten in the UK is eaten in our restaurants. That, if nothing else, should remind us of our responsibility.

Our hospitality industry can make a difference, contribute to the debate, and influence both the consumers and the government:

The idea for a Sustainable Fish City started when we persuaded the organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to serve sustainable fish at the games in 2009.  They honoured their promise.

Every piece of wild caught fish served at last summer’s glorious games was either Marine Conservation Society green rated or certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. This was the largest peace-time catering operation in the world. 

This was also the first games ever to display eco-labels, with Fairtrade and the Marine Stewardship Council logos to over 5 million competitors and visitors who enjoyed the food. Sponsors like Cadburys and Coca Cola paid millions to be associated with the games but after intensive lobbying, led by Sustain, the International Olympic Committee recognised the value of displaying eco-labels that showed much of the food was produced or caught under these certification systems. 

The real value for the International Olympic Committee choice was twofold:

  1. It helped to spread the sustainability message to the consumers and its fragile balance
  2. They were behaving responsibly by buying certified sustainable fish.

Of course this campaign helped to spread this important message.  For us -  this was about making the use of sustainable fish ‘normal’ – showing that eating sustainably is for all of us. That it is part of good practices, and something each responsible business should adopt. 

This vision of sustainability, for all of us, is becoming a reality. The UK retail sector has shown a strong commitment to sustainable seafood, offering consumers an even greater choice of well-sourced fish; for example, there are now more than 1,000 Marine Stewardship Council certified products available in the UK (and around 16,000 worldwide!). 18months ago London 2012 sponsor McDonald’s  also added to this wave of change and announced its commitment to sell MSC-certified sustainable fish to its 13 million customers per year throughout Europe.

It’s worth remembering, the customers who visit Marks and Spencer and see posters on the wall -  saying “We believe in sustainable fishing. Hook, line and sinker” are the same customers that visit our restaurants and they expect to have responsibly sourced fish on their dinner plate, not just in their shopping baskets. This is backed up by research from the Marine Stewardship Council showing 63% of UK fish buyers believe it is important for restaurants to show they have sustainable seafood options and 53% actively want it to be an option for them to order. 

Mega companies, like British Airways, McDonalds (13 million Eurpoean customers per year) and Eurostar (for which I am culinary director and who serve more than 1 0million meals a year), are part of the Sustainable Fish City project working hard on the sustainability of the fish they serve. So many large transport companies and caterers are embracing those values. It actually adds to their brand. 

These businesses are also joined by government, contract caterers like BaxterStorey, Restaurant Associates, ISS Food and Hospitality and today, I am pleased to announce that CH&Co (serving 22,000 people a day) are going to sign the sustainability pledge. These big caterers have committed to certifying 100’s of their restaurants to use the Marine Stewardship Council ecolabel, helping to spread the message to buy traceable certified fish through the blue MSC label.  

This shows a phenomenal commitment -  and several people in this room deserve praise for their hard work as they start to roll this out across their businesses. Congratulations in particular to Restaurant Associates to be the first of the contract caterer group to achieve this certification. They serve more 250,000 meals a day and signed up to the Sustainable Fich City pledge last year and have now got MSC certification in their over 100  catering sites.

I would also like to congratulate Sustainable Restaurant Association who is doing some good work to bring in more restaurants and caterers to embrace those values.
Yet, the battle ‘on and under the water’ is not over. Overfishing in Europe not only puts the survival of many fish species in jeopardy, it costs EU economies 1,800 million Euros each year. 

Yet European politicians are still wrangling over the details of the Common Fisheries Policy reform. Although there are some promising signs, it is likely that whatever is agreed over the coming year will be far from ideal; watered down. (compromise) 
one thing for sure is that governments have to stop thinking short term but look at the benefits of long term sustainability.

Now let's look at the state of a fish hero, the mackerel, which used to be plentiful. Now it has gone from being everyone’s green choice, to a fish where the future of the stock, although not in danger yet,  is now a cause for concern,  as European and Icelandic governments fail to agree how to manage the stocks, while their fisheries go on to over fish it. Do we need a clearer example of the failure of politics to manage resources for the future? 

To make progress we need collaboration and strong support from all sides. We need to be a team and work together with fishers, scientist, chefs, environmental groups, processors, retailers, media and of course us as buyers. 

 When we see this happen we see real results. For example, ‘Project 50%’ saw Devon beam-trawlers (aiming to catch flat fish) aim for the ambitious target of reducing their bycatch by 50%. Previous approaches to reduce the damaging fishing practice of "discarding" -  throwing fish with no market value back into the water,  had had little success but “Project 50%” scientists worked with the fishers and local net-makers to design and trial their own new gear. The trials were a resounding success, with average discards reductions of 52%, and the most successful boat achieving a 69% reduction! This made big benefits for the fish stocks but also for the fishers who, with a ‘cleaner’ catch, saved money on fuel and saved time in sorting the catch. With half of all fish caught in the North Sea discarded, collaborative efforts like Project 50% show a better way is possible.

There has also been successes that we should celebrate and support such as the Marine Stewardship Council Hastings Herring fishery whose representative Paul Joy spoke here last year. 

Or the wonderful Pisces Responsible Fish Restaurants scheme. Caroline Bennett and her team have been linking restaurants directly to small, low impact fishers and great success.  

A few years ago, our two beloved fish cod and haddock were thoroughly depleted. Today, through good management, we are rebuilding those stocks. While the cod stocks around the UK are still at worryingly low levels, recent measures are beginning to bear fruit. “The Conservation Credit Scheme” is one of them; it reduces cod mortality and has cut down discard by 50%. This scheme started in and works with the fishermen on responsible management measures, such as real time closures of fishing areas to avoid catching juvenile cod. Let’s hope these ongoing efforts pay off further over the next few years;  and we continue to see North Sea cod stocks recover.

The good news is that there is plentiful stocks of cod available in Iceland or the MSC-certified Norwegian fishery. 

Haddock in the North Sea is looking encouraging also. In 2012 the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) achieved MSC certification for it’s fishery of 192 boats. Worth around £25 million, the fleet catches 26,000 metric tonnes of haddock - So we can have the lovely blue MSC logo on our haddock and chips! 

So the haddock is back into our life. Again this was achieved through proper fishery management where fishers, scientist and government worked together to replenish the stock so that we can see it back onto our plates.

Farmed fish too is undergoing a time of innovation and improvement. Closed-circulation systems farms, and the farming of multi-species together to recycle nutrients are all ways of looking at farming fish better and smarter.  The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) as the sister organization to MSC, is promoting better standards in farmed fish through use of an eco-label - Chris from the ASC will talk to us soon.

To achieve sustainability though can also mean being conscious that some things are best staying in the sea, which means us as chefs choosing not to serve certain fish: such as eels, wild Atlantic halibut, and whitebait -which are just a mix of juvenile fish that have not had a chance to mature and reproduce - and of course, the critically endangered Bluefin tuna.

Eels have long been a part of UK culinary tradition, from jellied eels to smoked eel, and I enjoy both. And yet these fish are officially classified as ‘critically endangered’. As well as being impacted by fisheries (especially larger fisheries in continental Europe which often use very fine-nets and catch many juveniles) these fish are suffering from other man-made factors such as habitat loss, water contamination, and dams  which form barriers to their migration . Recently there have been extra efforts from UK eel fishers to try and improve things, such as forming a ‘sustainable eel group’ collaboration and (in the case of Severn and Wye smokery) trying to re-stock rivers. All of these efforts are laudable, but it takes time for these stocks to recover and we need to have the science to prove such efforts are working. Hopefully we will have positive news in the coming few years, but for now we must allow nature to try and replenish.

Thinking of vulnerable fish, it is worth particularly considering Bluefin tuna; these wild fish are critically endangered and international management of the stocks has consistently failed to allow the recovery of stocks and protect this species.  In 2010 the US, UK and other EU countries publicly supported an international proposal to ban the trade in Atlantic/Northern Bluefin Tuna until the stock recovered – yet this protection was defeated by opposition from countries such as Japan, Canada who have large economic interest in the trade. With a bluefin tuna selling for more than £1million just 2 weeks ago in Japan we can see there will be no refuge for these fish unless we take a stand. These vast sums of money incentivize fishers to catch EVERY last fish! But we as an industry we can say no to that. 

Most businesses in the UK recognise the critical status of bluefin tuna and have stopped serving this fish. Regrettably, there is still a small hardcore of restaurants that refuse to remove Bluefin Tuna from their menus and show no signs of bowing to media, public or political pressure.

It is time for the UK and our government to take a stand and legislate to allow the recovery of this iconic species.

Later on in the day we will have a chance to join together as responsible chefs and caterers stating that we support a ban on bluefin tuna in the UK. I hope you will join me in making this stand.

And let’s not forget the Bluefin’s less-glamorous cousin skipjack tuna; the tuna most consumed (canned!) in the UK. Skipjack tuna is often caught using vast purse seine nets, and most of these are set around a FAD (Fish Aggregation Device) which, as well as tuna, attracts a whole variety of fish and other sealife, including endangered species of turtles, sharks and manta rays. This precious marine life is then discarded as bycatch! We don’t have to be part of this destruction though – just do as most UK retailers now do and choose pole-and-line tuna, or at least ‘FAD-free’ tuna.

What is great news though, is that our vision of Sustainable Fish Cities is beginning to take shape. But it will only succeed with your participation.

This year I am delighted to welcome representatives from Brighton and Hove Food Partnership who are running their own Sustainable Fish City campaign. They have a strong emphasis on reconnecting the city with its fishing heritage and supporting the small local fleet.

And we also welcome the National Aquarium who are running a Sustainable Fish City campaign in Plymouth. They have, with colleagues at Fish2Fork, already worked with 50 restaurants in Plymouth. It is heartening to know that the energy we started with at last year’s event is already inspiring others across the country to champion sustainable fish in their towns – well done Plymouth and Brighton.

Going forward, I would like to see more of the large operators working with the Marine Stewardship Council and using their certified fish and displaying the logo to customers. We use Marine Stewardship Council certified fish at Le Manoir and have our chain of custody. It is not only about what is of value to our customers, it is also about us supporting the organisations that are ensuring fish is traceable to sustainable fisheries. 

An excellent example of this is the Marine Stewardship Council’s ‘Project Inshore’, funded by the European Union and a number of other partners. Through Project Inshore MSC are trying to work with all the small inshore fishing boats in England to assess the sustainability of the stocks, fishing methods and other impacts on those stocks. 
This work, once complete, should for the first time produce a full picture of what is working well around our coast and what needs to be done to ensure our precious fleet of small fishing boats can carry on fishing in a sustainable way. It is hoped that many of those fisheries will go on to progress to full Marine Stewardship Council. This will provide good/fresh/local fish on our table.

Of course our UK fisheries will only see a value in becoming more sustainable and going for certification if we   and other businesses support them by using Marine Stewardship Council eco-labelled fish. In the last year, UK sales of MSC labelled seafood have almost doubled to just over £228 million. However, restaurant sales only represent £4 million of that. (RB to explain why) -  Clearly there’s a huge opportunity awaiting restaurateurs!

Sustainable Fish City started work to engage businesses in January 2011. Their work, which includes help with assessing the sustainability of the fish you buy, is absolutely free. To provide this service they work hard raising money from charitable foundations. As Emily explained earlier, they are also involved in a number of other initiatives to increase the sustainability of our oceans - from trying to ensure that government commit that fish served in our schools is sustainable, to stopping the sale of the most endangered species.

It is an inescapable fact that the funding to provide free help through Sustainable Fish City will not go on forever. So please take advantage of working with them now. 
Enjoy today, listen to each other and swap ideas. 

Then, please engage and make a public statement by signing the Sustainable Fish City pledge that you are a business that supports sustainable fishing. No one expects you to be perfect overnight but by speaking out publicly about what you are trying to achieve you are helping to contribute to the debate and support sustainable fisheries.    

Please remember we can only succeed if each of us embrace those values.

  • If each of us, as individuals, and together as a business, assume our responsibilities
  • If each of us select responsible and knowledgeable suppliers to support our chefs and waiters and to pass on the message to our guests not only will we have a more efficient, better trained, and more knowledgeable team we will create A RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS, this will be embedded at the heart of our new brand values. Long term it will make our business sustainable.
  • By embracing these values we will not only be more ethical, but we will also respond to the wishes of our modern guests - which are more knowledgeable and demanding. They will expect these changes.
  • With your new knowledge, when you have signed your Sustainability Fish City pledge, you will not be poorer, actually, you will be richer. You will also be joining an ever growing number of chefs, business men, hotelier, restaurateurs, and creative minds that believe that true luxury today must translate into responsible luxury. It will become the heart and the core of your brand.
  • Your decision today will impact on your team, the way your business is perceived and you will also help to create a momentum and the changes needed to make a better tomorrow for us and future generations...with plenty of fish in the sea, and our customers enjoying them.
  • I hope I have given you plenty of good reasons as to why you should sign the Sustainable Fish City pledge.

Thank you for coming and listening. I wish you a good day.