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Emily Howgate, Seafood Choices AllianceEmily Howgate, Seafood Choices Alliance

Emily Howgate of SeaWeb's Seafood Choices is programme manager for the Good Catch initiative. This is a collaboration between the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), SeaWeb’s Seafood Choices and Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming. It was set up to help the foodservice sector navigate seafood sustainability.

Fish hero starEmily's work involves providing practical information, building relationships and encouraging dialogues to advance sustainability in the marketplace. This is supported by a range of events and user-friendly materials and activities on sustainable seafood, including The Good Catch Manual: a rough guide to seafood sustainability. The Manual includes MCS seafood ratings, information on Marine Stewardship Council-certified fisheries and top tips to ask suppliers, all in an easy-to-use format. Together the Good Catch workshops, field trips, publications and online tools create a collection of clear, consistent information and practical support to help the industry improve the sustainability of the fish they serve.

Emily played a leading role in advising the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to serve sustainable seafood, as set out in its London 2012 Food Vision published in 2009. Since then, Emily has also been instrumental in the establishment of the Sustainable Fish City campaign.

Here, Emily explains why she thinks sustainable seafood is so important.

Why do you think sustainable fish is important?

Sustainable seafood is all about using marine resources responsibly so we can have healthy seas and bright futures for all of us who rely on the underwater-world in one way or another. We might not always realise it but the ocean is hugely important for all of us - it gives us food, regulates our climate, provides oxygen for us to breathe, gives us ways of transport, many jobs in industries like fishing and tourism... All of these things depend on us respecting the ocean wisely and sustainable seafood is a key part of that. On top of that, the ocean is home to the greatest diversity of life on earth, it’s up to us to keep it that way for all those many weird and wonderful creatures of the big blue.

What have you done to support sustainable fish?

On a personal level, I try and buy only sustainable seafood and I particularly try and support those businesses who are making an effort to do the right thing by the ocean. Also, being a bit of a fish-geek, I’m forever spreading the word with interested family and friends.

Professionally, my work with Seafood Choices and on the Good Catch project is all about practical solutions and encouraging all players in the seafood sector in improving sustainability. The impacts of this are varied in scale but could include a chef who’s been to one of our workshops adding Cornish sardines to their menu, a Fish and Chip shop owner working with us to advise youngsters in their industry, or an international seafood importer creating a sustainable sourcing policy.

Take a look at the Good Catch website to find out more:

What inspired you to take action on sustainable fish?

As a kid I was always amazed by the sea and would collect shells on the beach. Growing up, as I studied ecology at university, I became more aware of how much impact we have on the other life on earth (and in the sea). I was particularly inspired to take action after visiting Monterey Bay Aquarium in the USA and learning about their Seafood Watch programme which is focussed on engaging consumers in marine conservation solutions by helping them choose sustainable seafood. Charles Clover’s 2004 book The End of the Line, which alerted readers to the impacts of the world’s fishing fleets, also felt like a call to arms for me.

What would you say to a concerned citizen interested in supporting sustainable fish?

Start off just by thinking about things and asking a few key questions – what exactly is my seafood and how and where was it caught or farmed? Begin to look at packet labels and have these conversations when you’re in a supermarket, restaurant or fishmongers. Remember, you’re the customer - so businesses selling you seafood should want to make you happy. And if that means telling you about where your fish is from then they’ll try to do it.

Sustainability advice from the Marine Conservation Society is a handy way of checking what marine experts think about different seafood options. See:

Marine Stewardship CouncilLooking out for ecolabelled seafood, such as that certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), can be a good way to pick out options that have been independently assured as being sustainable - this means someone else has already asked the questions for you. 

What would you say to a food buyer who hasn’t yet acted on the issue of sustainable fish?

Think about the reliance of your business on the natural resource of seafood, and also the reputation of your business. Seafood sustainability is very immediately important for the health of our seas and coastal communities and is also becoming increasing high profile in the media. Many consumers don’t imagine businesses would even serve seafood that is unsustainable – they expect it to be a given, just as they do food safety.

You wouldn’t want to have to ask how and where your food was produced to work out if it’s safe to eat. But these are the questions customers have to ask right now to work out if their fish is endangered or not. Business that aren’t fulfilling this expectation are running a risk both with our oceans and with the loyalty of their customers.

Find out more about the Good Catch initiative and support available for foodservice professionals to serve sustainable fish at:

Find out more about Seafood Choices at:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Fish Fight

I have been travelling around the UK meeting fishermen, marine conservationists, politicians, supermarkets bosses, and of course fish-eating members of the public. It has changed the way I think about fish.

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