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Fishy Business

OO Annie Fischer2

For a yacht chef, knowing where to buy sustainably-sourced seafood can be a fishy business. 

I’m from the UK, where your local fish monger can generally tell you where the fish was sourced, how sustainable it is, what is good to buy that month, and great alternatives to your usual buys like salmon and cod.

If you’re particularly lucky, your local monger will only be sourcing fish that fits all these categories- so you can walk into the shop with confidence, knowing that whatever your choice, it will be responsible and its impact not detrimental to the oceans.

However, in yachting this is no easy task.

Sourcing from suppliers and markets worldwide can be tricky, especially when business is  done in another language.

I will never forget the first time I went to Santa Catalina local market in Palma, Mallorca.
fish market swordfish harshlight flickr4tuna steak spanish

I was amazed at the incredible array of glistening, bright-eyed, fresh and abundant fish stalls.  Many species I’d never seen before; vivid red and orange scorpion fish, whole tuna, enormous seabass, and the famously popular john dory half a metre in length!

What an incredible feast, I thought.  My owners will be in heaven.  But the more I visited the market during the season, the more I started to think about where this fish was coming from.

I wanted to find out from the sellers how it was caught. I would try looking up ‘line caught’ and ‘sustainable’ in my English-Spanish dictionary, but languages not being my strongest asset, I struggled to find out. Usually the answer I would get was, ‘This fish is good, buy it.”

This is when I started to become concerned with my buying choices and the impact they might be having on the ocean’s fish stocks.

dragnet fishing wikimediaReading the Sunday newspapers in the crew mess, there would be regular articles about fish stocks depleting.  What I learnt was alarming. 

The European Union Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which allows for consistent fisheries management across Europe, was introduced in 1982 and is revised every 10 years.

In 2002, the objectives of the new CFP aimed to ensure "the sustainable development of fishing activities from an environmental, economic and social point of view".

It is abundantly clear that this reform did not achieve its objectives.

  • Three quarters of European stocks are now being overfished,

  •  82% of Mediterranean stocks and

  •  63% of Atlantic stocks.

According to Greenpeace, 9 out of 10 fish stocks are now under threat. 

swordfish lined up Jose Antonio Gil Martinez

This is a problem the European Union must address for its future economy, for the fishermen and their industry, for marine biodiversity- and for us to be able to continue eating fresh and healthy fish.

We could be waiting a while for the EU to get their act together, but that doesn’t mean changes by the consumer can’t start right now.

So what does this mean for the yachting industry and our provisioning needs?

We need a guide, a list of Do’s and Don’t’s to help us make the right seafood choices.

Luckily, some of these lists exist already- and are easily accessed online.

wwf logoWWF offer a world wide guide to buying fish, it’s so easy to follow a child could work it out.

Download this on your laptop, then when it comes to using provisioners, you can use it to help make the right choices, or print it off and take it to the market with you.

The Marine Conservation Society
guide is predominately designed for the UK, however it can be used as a method to help buy in Europe- after all, something is better than nothing, and the information provided is excellent.

marine conservation societyThe guide is easily downloadable on their website, you can sign up for their newsletter and keep posted on what’s great for that month and all the new fishy updates in the industry.

This guide excels in that it lists each seafood species with three categories to look at:

                                                      ‘Eat’, ‘Think’ and ‘Avoid’.

It’s really clear and helpful when going to the markets- as long as you can ask where it came from.  Some markets do have labels that say the country of source. 

marine stewardship councilThe Marine Stewardship Council are a global advisor, on their website you can run a search to find a sustainable supplier for any species in the country you are in.

This is a fantastic resource for searching brands and you can also track fisheries. You can also look out for the MSC logo on seafood products in any supermarket.

So that covers sourcing sustainable fish on your own, but what about using provisioning companies?

With this in mind I decided to contact three yacht provisioning companies in Spain, France and Italy to ask them if they could tell me which of their seafood range was sustainably sourced.

Essential Yacht Provisioning in Palma were a great help. Ruth informed me they can supply farmed Salmon, Turbot, Seabass and Bream, plus she offered to ask the fish man at the market what he would recommend.

fish market again Maks KarochkinSo now I don’t have to attempt my terrible Spanish, as Ruth can do it fluently for me. Now that’s what I want from a provisioning company! 

Whether farmed fish is a good alternative is a whole other topic I will address in another article, but at least this provisioning company are seeking alternatives to these highly over- fished species.

Sadly the French and Italian provisioning companies didn’t get back to me, so I can’t comment on their helpfulness- other than they were not helpful as they didn’t get back to me!

However, I am sure there are some fantastic provisioners in these countries who will be very happy to help- and if enough chefs ask about sustainability when putting in their orders, then over time it will become standard to provide that information. 

So now we have guides about sustainable purchasing and provisioning companies that can research and supply for us.

But what about our guests?

Outstanding fresh seafood is an expectation of yacht guests.  The assumption is that as we are on the water, we should be able to catch a fish off the back of the boat and cook it up for dinner. Simple.

shutterstock original fishing rodsYet this tends to be rare.  I’ve never been that lucky, the only fish I have ever caught off the back of a boat was an over-excited toothy Barracuda which was not easy to release back into the water!

The real truth is that the vast majority of the seafood is supplied to the yacht from the market or yacht provisioning company.

If we are to keep up this illusion for guests that seafood is abundant and can jump straight out of the ocean onto their dinner plates, we must start sourcing fish from sustainable and responsible suppliers. Changing our buying habits will positively affect the future of the oceans and the future of our magic illusion to be able to provide anything the guest requests onboard.

So to all you fantastic chefs and stews out there, if you love the oceans you work on... 

Get started on sourcing sustainably and be proud to say your yacht is proactively helping the issues of over fishing.

If your boat is doing this already or wants to start, write about it on here and tell everyone what you are doing. If you don’t have the time to write an article, contact me and I’ll write about you and your fabulousness instead.

Let’s get involved in this fishy business!

*Images courtesy of harshlight; Jose Martinez, Jeremy Keith, Maks Karochkin, Wikimedia Commons, Shutterstock (via CC license 2.0)

Annie has worked in the yachting industry for 4 years worldwide as a Stewardess and Chef. She has a enthusiasm for marine conservation and biodiversity and is a keen advocate for the protection of the oceans.

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