Seafood focus: What's the catch?

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fish, Seafood

Whether you're serving fish fingers or Dover sole, the latest buzzword in seafood is sustainability. Pubs are being urged to capitalise on the...

Whether you're serving fish fingers or Dover sole, the latest buzzword in seafood is sustainability. Pubs are being urged to capitalise on the growing demand for products which have been sourced with the long-term survival of the species secured.

There has been growing interest in sustainability. Earlier this month, bluefin tuna - a controversial target of fishermen's nets in the Mediterranean - was in the news when the EU held talks over tightening inspection controls to stop the vulnerable sushi favourite heading for extinction. Sourcing British pub classics such as cod and haddock has also become more expensive due to the recent slashing of quotas fishermen are allowed to catch.

The profile of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the body that audits and accredits fisheries working for the sustainable future of their catches, has risen in light of this new interest. It all adds up to customers more familiar with the issue of sustainability who are likely to be attracted to sustainable fish on pub menus.

The good news is that there are plenty of suppliers catering for this audience. Brakes subsidiary M&J Seafood, for example, placed a ban on Mediterranean bluefin tuna well over a year ago and many of the company's products are MSC accredited. Fish specialist Young's Foodservice likewise acknowledges the importance of sustainable seafood.

Young's foodservice director Peter Milsted says: "The issue for caterers is that consumers are getting a lot of this information from retailers.

They have an expectation of the terminology that is used in this area. The onus is therefore on the publican to start asking searching questions of their suppliers."

When it comes to making sure the menu doesn't scream 'we are irresponsibly destroying fish stocks around the world!', there are essentially two options.

The first of these is sourcing MSC-approved fish. The MSC audits people at every stage in the supply chain, from the fisheries that catch the fish to pubs that serve it. It assesses the sustainability of the stock, environmental impacts, the responsible management of the fishery, and the 'robustness' of the supply chain - whether non-MSC products may be subbed in for MSC products at any stage.

It is crucial to note, however, that the pub itself must be accredited to promote fish on its menu as MSC-approved (see box). While sourcing these products may be good for a licensee's conscience, it will only be available as a marketing tool if the pub is audited itself.The second option is going for alternatives to intensively fished pub classics. "There are a lot of alternatives which deliver a good eating experience," says Peter. "Some are wild fish; some are farmed species, such as basa. Basa is a relatively mild eat. It's a bit closer to lemon sole than cod or haddock. The British palate doesn't like anything too strong."

M&J commercial director Mike Berthet says: "Sustainability should not get confused with the issue of manageable biomass. It's true to say that cod and haddock have been over-fished, but also true that the quota available to fishermen has been slashed dramatically." He adds, however, that we are "yet to see how these things take effect" in allowing the stock to recover.

With this caution in mind, M&J has published a guide for customers featuring a detailed list of fish with more guaranteed sustainability, plus recipes. Mike lists grey mullet, gurnard, herring and squid as such species. "There are options, not only to use under-utilised species, but also to stick with British fish," he says.

The new-found popularity of what were once obscure types of fish in pubs is encouraging pub chefs to become more adventurous, foodservice companies believe. Premier Foods, with its ethnic brand Sharwood's, is happy with the shift to more exotic fish dishes.It points to the ease of stir-frying hoki, monkfish or prawns - or as Premier Foods business development chef Mark Rigby says: "Historically, we have relied on fish such as cod and haddock from regional waters as part of our staple diet. Lesser known white fish such as coley, pollock and hoki are caught in waters where there is a greater supply of fish and can work equally well when cooked with Sharwood's sauces."

Mike recommends easing customers into more adventurous types of fish by running them alongside pub classics, or offering trios of fish as one dish. "People will say to themselves 'I am not going to be disappointed by two thirds of the meal and I will try the other'. Six months down the line, you will be able to use 'the other' as a dish in its own right."

Designing your fish offering under these guidelines will not only mean you appeal to customer demand, but also help to keep fish on the menu for years to come.

Related topics: News

Property of the week

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more