Charlotte Jarman is project officer for Ethical Eats - an initiative run by London Food Link, the network for people and organisations in London interested in ethical and sustainable food.
Ethical Eats is an informal network of chefs, restaurateurs and caterers interested in sustainability. Through the network, businesses can share experiences, promote good practice and identify practical steps that they can take to become more sustainable. Ethical Eats organises several meetings a year to tackle slippery issues such as sustainable fish, animal welfare, energy use and waste. It also runs ‘meet the producer’ events and visits to local farms.
Here, Charlotte talks about what motivates her to work on sustainable fish. She says she first got involved "after reading a series of frightening stories in the media about the plight of our fish stocks".
Fish and seafood can be fantastic, healthy, delicious food - but we have not been looking after this precious resource. As fishing vessels have become more technologically advanced, we have developed the ability to scoop vast quantities of fish out of the ocean - and this we have done, often with no thought for the fragile marine ecosystems that we are disrupting.
As a result, several major fisheries have been brought close to collapse. The Grand Banks cod fishery in Newfoundland, which collapsed in the early 1990s and has never recovered, stands as a stark warning of the ecological and social disaster that we face if we continue to plunder the oceans at an unsustainable rate. Note that the disaster will be social as well as environmental: millions of people worldwide depend on the fishing industry for their livelihoods, and in poor countries fish is a vital source of protein for coastal communities.
As catches of wild fish have started to decline, while demand climbs ever upwards, fish farming or aquaculture has emerged as a potential solution to the problems of overfishing. However, as much aquaculture relies on wild fish stocks for feed (many of the commonly farmed species such as salmon and sea bass are carnivorous) and for brood stock (baby fish or prawns or whatever to restock the ponds), it can have a direct impact on populations of wild fish. Aquaculture has also, in many instances, been practised in an environmentally or socially damaging way, causing problems of pollution, disease, and displacement of coastal communities.
There is hope! Organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council and the Marine Conservation Society are working to show that it is possible to harvest the ocean's bounty in a responsible and sustainable way. As shoppers, restaurant customers and citizens, we need to show that we only want to eat fish that has been caught or farmed sustainably.
Through my work at Sustain, I helped to establish the Good Catch initiative, which helps restaurants and caterers to serve and promote more sustainable fish and seafood. Good Catch is a joint initiative of Sustain and three marine conservation organisations: the Marine Conservation Society, the Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Choices. We run workshops for people working in the catering industry, promote fishers and suppliers of sustainable fish, and provide information about the issues on our website and in various publications.
The advice I would give to a chef or restaurateur is to get in touch with Ethical Eats and Good Catch for help. Sustainable fish can be a tricky topic - but you don't have to work it all out by yourself. As a first step, have a look at the Good Catch website and explore Good Catch: The Essentials.
For individuals, I would say: Start with the Marine Conservation Society's lists of fish to eat and fish to avoid, which you can find here: http://www.fishonline.org/. Talk to your fishmonger, and ask questions in restaurants - the more buyers know that this is an issue that people care about, the better.
"This issue isn't going to go away - at least, not until we all pull together and do something about it. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of the issues around sustainable fish, and will reward companies that they see to be acting responsibly.
Sustainable Fish City is a Sustain campaign