Sustainable seafood makes happy customers in an age when everyone wants to know where their food is from—as long as chefs know how to use it
If you think that plate of fish and chips on your lunch-time menu is a fail-safe crowd pleaser, you’d better know where the fish came from—and how it was farmed, fed, caught, and killed.
The buzz surrounding sustainable seafood has probably already entered into the dining conscience of your customers, and could be more controversial than the political hot potato sitting next to it if you can’t present an argument for the type of fish you choose to use.
Gone are the days of describing seafood products according to their generic handles, like ‘baby octopus’, ‘prawns’ or ‘white fish’. Today, customers need to know what species might turn up on their plates, where it’s from, and how it got there.
For most chefs, the increased awareness among the dining public about where their food has come from is a good thing. Celebrities like Justin North, Neil Perry and Kylie Kwong have long spruiked the advantages of sustainable farming and growing practices.
But the tide has also turned when it comes to plating up a monster snapper or slice of salmon to eco-savvy diners, and you’re going to need to know a bit about modern aquaculture to justify some of your own seafood sources.
Once upon a time, oceanic aquaculture practices came under fire for a number of environmental issues, including overfeeding, the use of pollutants, and the introduction of antibiotics and lice treatments into the wild.
However, most of today’s aquaculture operations have jumped on the sustainability bandwagon and now boast better eco-credentials than many traditional wild-caught fishing trawlers—especially those in nearby waters.
In a recent study by international seafood inspection and certification body Global Trust, the large-scale aquaculture operations in Australia and New Zealand were found to be among the most sustainable fishing outfits in the world.
Southern aquaculture farms—primarily salmon producers—received a “first in class” rating compared to other salmon-producing regions in the world, the report found, as well as noting that Australia and New Zealand had forged “the most robust environmental regulatory frameworks” on the planet.
Local operations also don’t use pesticides or antibiotics to manage parasites like sea lice, the report noted, nor resort to killing predatory species such as sharks in the farming area.
“We’re always trying to raise awareness about our produce by passing on the farmer’s knowledge to our kitchen staff, who then share it with the floor staff.” Justin North, Becasse, Sydney
But how can chefs know which fish catches get this kind of big green tick once the seafood is laid out in front of them?
For Markus Gerlik from New Zealand King Salmon, it comes down to having a good relationship with suppliers, and asking for certification details about the seafood they buy.
“Know some of the certifying seafood bodies and ask whether the seafood you’re buying is approved by them,” Mr Gerlik says, listing off a few examples to look for.
“Species specific Environmental Codes of Practice provide best practice principles in growing and harvesting different types of fish, while international conservation organisation Blue Ocean Institute also list the top eco-friendly seafood products in the world.
“Global Trust certification is also a good one for recognising world-leading environmental aquaculture practices,” he says. Many of Australia and New Zealand’s marine farmers already have this kind of certification— including a code of practice tick for the New Zealand Greenshell Mussel (one of the country’s biggest seafood exports), and Global Trust certification for New Zealand King Salmon.
Having those conversations with your supplier also means you’ll be up to speed on wider seafood sustainability issues, which can make for solid small talk in the dining room.
It’s a principle that Becasse chef Justin North has long adopted. “We’re always trying to raise awareness about our produce by passing on the farmer’s knowledge to our kitchen staff, who then share it with the floor staff.
“It eventually makes its way out to diners, and it’s always great to share that message,” he says.
The rise of aquaculture ventures as a way to take pressure of wild fish stocks potentially means that farmers can share this kind of information more closely with chefs.
Biologist with leading Tasmanian salmon farm Huon Aquaculture, Davey Whyte, says this is one of the biggest benefits of the new focus on sustainability.
“Most seafood we used to eat was caught instead of farmed, so there wasn’t much opportunity to specify certain aspects of the fish,” Whyte explains.
“But now that there are better ways of farming fish, we take great delight in working with chefs on what specific taste or texture qualities they’d like to see in a product.”