Geetie Singh MBE is founder and owner of The Duke of Cambridge Organic Pub, which is the UK’s first and only gastropub certified by the Soil Association. It is located in the Angel area of Islington, North London. Geetie's gastropub pioneered the use of demonstrably sustainable fish in its restaurant, working with expert advisors from the Marine Conservation Society and the Marine Stewardship Council.
The world’s fish stocks have been decimated by overfishing and this, combined with modern fishing methods, is causing untold damage to marine ecosystems. Sourcing sustainable fish for our restaurant is one way in which we can help reverse the decline in fish stocks and raise awareness about the damage being caused.
When the Duke of Cambridge first opened, I wanted every aspect of the business to have a positive effect on the environment. This was pretty straightforward to put in to practice except when it came to the fish! It was difficult to get information and find suppliers who cared about where their fish were coming from. As a result of this, in 2000, I approached the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for some guidance. After a lot of detailed work, we drew up a sustainable fish policy for the Duke of Cambridge. In so doing, we were the first restaurant in the UK to have a fish buying policy approved by the MCS and we eventually found a good supplier who could adhere to our policy.
Since then, in 2007 the pub also took part in a pilot scheme of the Marine Stewardship Council’s MSC restaurant certification process, and we still sell MSC certified fish when available. Most recently we have introduced boards detailing the provenance and method of capture for the fish on the menu each day. I believe we are currently one of the only restaurants in London doing so. And we are happy to provide further information about our fish buying policy upon request.
Away from the pub, I have sat on a number of boards and committees lobbying for sustainable eating. As a member of Hillary Benn’s Food Policy Council, I pushed for the council to attend an event at Billingsgate Fish Market. Presentations were made by the MCS, helping to put sustainable fish on the Food Policy Council’s agenda. I also currently sit on the advisory board of the Good Catch initiative, helping other restaurants and caterers to adopt sustainable fish policies and practices.
Firstly, always ask – whether at the fishmongers, the supermarket or in a restaurant – where is the fish from? How was it caught? You may not understand the answer (such as the method of capture, and to what extent it is harmful), but by holding businesses accountable, the more they will think about provenance themselves. Secondly, approach relevant organisations such as Good Catch, MCS, MSC, or the Soil Association, for information about where to find sustainable fish and about what consumers can do to make a difference.
The reality is – no change to our habits, no fish in the not too distant future! And, as restaurateurs, we are in a unique position to draw attention to the issue of sustainable fish and to educate through the fish we put on our menus. Some people may never have tried certain species. By making them available and by demonstrating how they can be cooked, we may affect the choices the customer makes in the future.
I always recommend the Good Catch website as a good place to start for businesses. Also, the Marine Conservation Society's Fish Online service is great for finding out about the status of most commonly sold fish.
The first point to make is that without change there will soon be no fish to serve! Beyond this, if a business doesn’t change it will be left behind as customer attitudes do and will inevitably change. Business, and large organisations in particular, have a responsibility to think about society and the planet as a whole. The more people we employ and the more people we serve, the greater the impact of our actions. We should aim to be like the Quakers of old and turn our principles into action.
Sustainable Fish City is a Sustain campaign