Caroline Bennett is managing director of Moshi Moshi, a Japanese restaurant with two outlets in the City of London. Caroline is a passionate advocate of sustainable fish, and was made a Seafood Champion by the Seafood Choices Alliance. Moshi Moshi has a sustainable seafood buying policy and buys fish directly from fishing boats, offering a higher price than the middlemen, if the fishermen guarantee to use the most sustainable fishing practices.
Caroline is also the founder of Pisces Responsible Fish Restaurants, helping other restaurants and caterers to adopt fish sustainability standards. Here Caroline explains why she feels so passionately about sustainable fish.
It is very clear that the health of all humankind depends on the health of our planet. A recent analysis of the original sources for all the 1,031 drugs approved worldwide between 1981 and 2002 concluded that none of these could be traced unequivocally to a totally synthetic source. The field of marine microbial drug discovery is still in its infancy, yet it’s already been earmarked as one of the most exciting frontiers in the search for natural medicines. However, we will only be able to reap the benefits if we preserve these marine ecosystems. This is just one example of how far-reaching the impact on our lives the sea is, though the sea as provider of good food is probably the one we focus upon most!
I set up a Japanese restaurant in 1994 because, after coming home from Japan, I craved the taste of blue fin tuna. Three years later, when I realised the tuna was so endangered that eating toro from the belly of the blue fin was akin to eating a Rhinoceros, I suddenly realised how fragile our marine ecosystems are, and I was determined to do something about the way we fished the seas. I don’t want to profit at the expense of creatures as noble and beautiful as those we are privileged to share this planet with, and I know that we can’t sustain life without them. As Charles Clover puts so well in his film, End of the Line, sorting out the fisheries isn’t rocket science. We know the problems, we don’t even need any additional information to know how to fix them: we just have to get on and do it. No excuses.
When we first started out, we imported white fish, such as red bream and snapper, because that’s what was eaten in sushi bars in Japan. This was madness: we are an island nation. We have plenty of white fish in our own waters, and it is much tastier than fish imported from miles away. But it wasn’t until I met a fisherman from Cornwall, at the Slow Food world summit, Terra Madre, 2004, that I saw how we could take advantage our wonderful natural resources.
Up until then, the quality of white fish we were getting through our regular suppliers just wasn’t up to the mark. Fish eaten raw has not only to be super-fresh, but also caught and handled in such a way that the flesh of the fish remains in perfect condition. Trawl caught fish simply aren’t in the same league as the gillnet-caught fish we now get from Cornwall. Plus, gillnets don’t damage the seabed like trawl nets.
But we didn’t stop there. We started to order not by species, but by category. So for example, instead of ordering 10kg of mackerel, and 10kg of plaice, we would say 10kg of any ‘blue’ fish and 10kg of any ‘flat’ fish. In the first place this meant that we were helping our fisherman make a good living by giving him a fair price, not just the well-known species, but for everything he caught, including dogfish, wrasse, the liver from the monkfish – which were all previously just used for bait. Secondly, ordering by category meant that our fisherman wasn’t just targetting certain species. If every boat worked like this, it would put an end to the wasteful ‘high grading’ - discarding the lower-value species - and ‘discards’ - throwing lower value species back dead in to the sea. Discards in some fisheries are as high as 70 per cent. If everyone started buying by category, instead of species, this would have a very immediate benefit to fish stocks.
We also like our Cornish fisherman because he uses relatively large mesh (net) sizes so as to allow the immature fish to get through, and the very large, highly fertile ones to bounce off! I was so delighted with our switch to buying top-quality fish from Cornish fishermen that I was inspired to become one of the founding members of Pisces Responsible Fish Restaurants, which seeks to introduce small-scale fishers from around the British waters to restaurateurs. My colleague Malcolm MacGarvin and I work on this project, and have plenty more to say about it should anyone be interested!
If overfishing were an easy problem to solve, we would have made more progress by now. Because of the complexities of fisheries, it is easy to have the wool pulled over one’s eyes, so the first thing is to be wary!
When you buy fish I would recommend asking just one simple question: How was the fish caught? If it can’t be answered to your satisfaction, then don’t choose the fish option. If it was line caught, or UK gill net, small trammel net or potted then great - tuck in! If not, then avoid it. The answer to be most wary of is ‘it’s caught by day-boats’ . This gives you no guarantee of the type of fishing gear used, and it could still be damaging to the seabed or unselective on fish stocks.
You can also look for the mark of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Lastly, if it is a farmed fish, try to avoid it - although, to my shame, I still serve farmed salmon and seabass in my restaurants.
You won’t be disappointed. Once customers have tasted truly fresh fish, you will find it hard to serve them lesser quality. Your chefs won’t like going back to cutting up smelly fish, either! You may need to train your chefs on how to prepare a whole fish, rather than rely on fillets, but I think your customers will reward you for your efforts.
I'd quote two people:
Sustainable Fish City is a Sustain campaign