Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The sustainable fish that’s transforming the British seafood business

The MSC's George Clark follows the trail of Cornish hake from ocean to plate and celebrates some pioneers of the UK seafood business.

Recent years have seen considerable growth in interest for serving MSC certified sustainable seafood in the UK’s restaurants and fish and chip shops. Much of this is driven by the preferences of increasingly aware consumers.

Cornish hake being landed on Ajax PZ36 with Paul Trebilcock, CFPO Chief Executive and Ajax skipper, Alan Dwan with MSC ecolabel

Alongside growing consumer demand there’s been a growth in MSC certifications for UK fisheries. Recent newcomers include Hastings plaice, Scottish mackerel and Cornish hake. I visited England’s South West coast to trace the hake’s journey from ocean to plate and see first-hand how it’s changing the British seafood business.

My first stop was Newlyn Harbour where the hake was landed. I was also here to present our MSC UK Special Achievement Award to Paul Trebilcock, CEO of the Cornish Fish Producers’ Organisation (CFPO). The award is given to a company or group who open up a route for a new species to enter the MSC certified market.

By incorporating the fish auctions at Newlyn, Brixham and Plymouth markets into their certificate, the CFPO has laid a path for sustainable Cornish hake. Along with its commitment to sustainable fishing it’s helped make British MSC certified fish much easier to source.

“We are proud of how the industry has responded to the challenge of working with scientists to better understand the state of fish stocks…and where action has been needed to improve stocks it has been taken. We’re very proud of our award and hope that there will be further interest in Cornish hake now that it’s available as an MSC certified species.” says Paul.

From ocean to market
From landing at the harbour in Newlyn, the hake is sold at the market auctions to MSC certified suppliers. I visited the Brixham market, where I saw hake bought, filleted and packed by MSC suppliers, Kingfisher Brixham.

Kingfisher Brixham is part of Direct Seafoods, a specialist fish and seafood group that supplies all kinds of businesses, from Michelin starred restaurants to contract caterers for schools. The certification and improved supply of Cornish hake has been a welcome boon for their business:

“It’s a local UK-sourced fish that is available in large volumes and tastes delicious. It highlights a truly local fish that’s readily available and growing in popularity with chefs and businesses across the country” says Laky Zervudachi, Direct Seafoods’ Sustainability Director.

The local specialists
Another supplier I met along the way was Wild Harbour of Hayle, West Cornwall.
Started in 2011 by owners Saul and Abi Astrinsky, the company was recently MSC certified. Saul has 25 years’ experience as a commercial hand line fisherman and now has a group of around 26 fisherman landing fish for the business.

“We have two great fisheries in Cornwall for both hake and sardines, so felt that the MSC certification for both would be an excellent additional selling point as well as supporting their commitment towards a sustainable future for both fisheries.” Abi tells me. “Our customers have been really interested in what we’ve been doing and we’ve had lots of enquiries regarding our certification for both the hake and sardines.”

A very special chippy

Craig Maw, owner of Kingfisher Fish and Chips receiving his delivery of Cornish hake.

Next I made my way to Plympton in Devon and the end of the chain. I was there to visit Kingfisher Fish and Chips and present owner Craig Maw with the MSC award for Best MSC UK Restaurant Menu 2016. Kingfisher isn’t just a local leader, at present it holds the world record for having the largest number of MSC certified sustainable seafood species on its menu with 12.

While I was there, I witnessed the chippy’s very first delivery of MSC Cornish hake, thanks to Kingfisher Brixham, fresh from the CFPO boats I saw just the day before.

Shortly after, Craig tells us the hake is a big hit: “Cornish hake is already the most popular MSC certified species after cod and haddock. I believe its popularity is down to its delicate taste. It’s also very local and is sustainably fished which resonates with our customers.”

Story courtesy of George Clark, MSC Commercial Manager