A Sea of Sustainability

Seafood taken from the world’s oceans has increased five-fold in the past 50 years. Yet Britain’s appetite continues to grow, especially out of home where it accounts for 18 per cent of meals. These two combined factors are putting a major strain on the world’s resources; the reason why Brakes Group is on a mission to supply only certified sustainable seafood to its customers while promoting under-utilised and discarded species to help protect our stocks.


Britain is a fish loving nation, especially when it comes to eating out. Whether poached, grilled, or indulgently battered and deep-fried, 18 per cent of out-of-home meals are seafood based.1


However, it is naive to think that the nation’s increasing demand for this much- loved source of protein is not having an impact on the world’s stocks. In reality, the United Nations has forecast that by 2030 fish production for human consumption will edge up to around 130 million tonnes. The current global production rate is around 110 million tonnes2. In order to meet this increase in demand, the entire industry must work together to effectively manage stocks of over-utilised fish, while promoting under-utilised alternatives for future generations to enjoy.


Back in 1988 M & J Seafood, now part of Brakes Group, made a pledge to supply only certified sustainable seafood to its customers under its ethos; ‘meeting today’s needs while protecting tomorrow’s’. In 2005, the company added an additional commitment to actively promote greater variety and under-utilised species whilst encouraging skippers to stop discarding species that were suitable for human consumption.


Today, Mike Berthet, Director of Fish and Seafood at Brakes Group explains: “The seas around the world have to be fished sustainably. Therefore, Brakes Group has to be responsible in its sourcing and in what we offer so that chefs can create nutritious, exciting and sustainable menus for their customers.


“We have always gone to great lengths to ensure that we source from sustainable, well-managed and progressive fisheries for both wild capture and farmed seafood. The ultimate goal is to make our entire range sustainable while educating our customers about under-utilised fish, and how it can be prepared for their customers.”


The group is extremely proud of its achievements so far. In 1988 M&J Seafood set out its Sustainable Policy, in 1997/8 M&J Seafood represented foodservice at the WWF-Unilever Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Steering Group and in 2003, as part of the Brakes Group, was the first in foodservice to offer MSC certified products.


The company’s prominent relationship with MSC – which is the certification awarded to fisheries who produce sustainable fish and seafood from well- managed stocks – has changed the way in which the supplier, its customers and their consumers make choices about their seafood selections.

Adam Swan, commercial director for Brakes Group sits on the MSC Technical Advisory Board, taking an active role in their future direction. He comments: “Our active involvement with MSC will help to relieve the pressure on over utilised fish stocks for years to come, especially as more customers and consumers identify with what it means.


“We are currently monitoring the progress of the Scottish Scampi Fishery as it undergoes MSC accreditation and Scottish Haddock won its certification earlier this month. The Haddock is the first Scottish whitefish to be certified and we will be the first to supply it to foodservice. We encourage customers to follow suit and undergo MSC certification, so that they too can prove to their customers that they are sustainable.”


This, and becoming the first foodservice company to introduce MSC products, is not the only MSC associated ‘firsts’ Brakes Group has achieved. It now has 82 approved products available to customers, the largest range in UK foodservice and 2011 will be another landmark year, as Brakes Group looks to reaching a target of 100 MSC certified products.


The MSC incentive is vital in helping to sustain favoured seafood species such as Cod and Haddock. Yet frustratingly, fisherman discard thousands of tonnes of varied species of seafood every year because the fish does not meet minimum landing size, there is little or no money in it, the fish cannot be easily marketed, or there is no quota left. Most worrying of all however, is that a great deal of these discards are perfect for human consumption.


Berthet says: “Of all the contributing factors to fish discards there is one that we and our chefs can do something about – and that is fish that can be easily marketed and eaten… should be.’


“For several years we have been championing these under-utilised species with particular success. In 2008, we brought the humble Gurnard to the fore at the Billingsgate Sustainable Futures Day which secured an enormous amount of media and exposure. It is now gracing dining tables up and down the country, where clever chefs have designed new or adapted old recipes.”


Chefs have such an important role to play in solving the fish discard issue. Along with the major Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform in 20133, there will be a huge need to utilise species that can and should be used for human consumption.


However, Brakes Group is not waiting around for that moment and is currently helping chefs to embrace species such as Dab, Flounder, Grey Mullet, Witch, Megrim, Pout, Sand Sole, and indeed, the mighty Gurnard.


“Raising awareness about the advantages of sustainable species is challenging, but we are vigorously dedicated to the cause. Next year, we will spend time talking to chefs about introducing under- utilised species to their customers – with nationwide workshops, in-house training and new and improved marketing materials. We will also continue to work with NGO’s, skippers and peers to highlight sustainable fishing and how, by working together, the industry can make a difference,” Mike Berthet concludes.


After all, ‘every little bit helps’, and Brakes Group hopes that in years to come, the variety in fish species will flourish and all menus will include the MSC ‘seal of approval’ in that all important 18 per cent percent of seafood meals in foodservice.