Trend Spotlight: Sustainably Sourced Seafood in London

6 March, 2015


Soleshare the first “fish box” scheme to provide sustainably sourced seafood in London

More than ever, we’re encouraged to include seafood in our diets, but while fish is good for us, our mainstream methods of fishing aren’t so good for fish. High demand for seafood is having a devastating impact on our seas. And for consumers, it is often difficult to navigate the waves of information directed at us (whether we should be buying tuna or cod, which type and from where) – and then apply that knowledge judiciously at the fish counter and in restaurants.

Soleshare’s catch of the day: sustainably sourced lemon sole and plaice delivered direct to London

The UK Food Standards Agency recommends eating at least two portions of fish every week to gain vital vitamins and minerals, as well as omega 3 fatty-acids. But in our pursuit of a healthy diet, the oceans have taken a battering. More than a quarter of the world’s waters are over-fished. In Europe, 41% of the North Atlantic is over-fished and the Mediterranean has suffered worse, with 96% of all fish living close to the seafloor depleted and 71% of species that swim in open waters running low.

However, new schemes and services are making finding sustainably sourced seafood in London easier than ever. Founded in 2013, Soleshare is London’s first sustainably sourced fish box scheme, while Fish2Fork which launched in 2009 rates London restaurants on their oceanic impact, informing consumers and helping mindful London chefs to craft sustainably sourced seafood menus.

Free with every order: a Soleshare filleting knife from the sustainably sourced seafood box scheme in London

Serving London’s North East, but with plans to expand, Soleshare’s stock is 100% seasonal and traceable, supplied solely by three independent fishermen who use low-impact methods. Rather than trawlers, their fishermen take to the sea in “under 10-fleets” (seadog parlance for boats less than 10m in length), and adapt their methods according to the fish they expect to catch: pots for lobster and crabs, and nets-in-water for finned fish.

Founded by marine biologists and sea-foodies Theresa Douthwright (who also co-founded the oyster bar pop-up Mother Shuckers) and her partner Jack Clarke (who set up the community supported fishery Catchbox), personal relationships are key and they rely upon like-minded local suppliers from Dungerness, Kent, New Haven, Sussex and Newland, Cornwall.

Soleshare provide recipe cards on how to cook lesser-known sustainably sourced seafood at home in London

When we visited their Stoke Newington collection point it was the first day back to business after a winter break. The catch of the day had come from fisherman Joe Thomas in Dungerness and included lemon sole, brill, plaice and cod fillets. The available selection changes with the tides, and since some catches are less familiar to diners, Soleshare include recipe cards with each buy, encouraging cooking the fish whole so as to minimise waste.

To join, users sign-up to the Soleshare site, register their pick-up location and then pop down weekly or fortnightly to collect their catch. The site now has a hundred users served by fifteen locations across London’s North East.

When buying sustainably sourced seafood in London diners need to weigh up oceanic impact against culinary habits

Fish2fork approaches sustainable seafood in London from the restaurant kitchen. The non-profit site is the only guide for customers who want to eat sustainably sourced seafood in London, but is also a campaigning platform to encourage, educate and persuade chefs to source responsibly. The site already has 1,200 reviews and a diner-review system that lets you review a restaurants’ sustainability from your table.

Fish2fork ratings follow the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) index on endangered species. A fish2fork ‘red fish’ rating of five indicates seafood that should never be fished, for example most varieties of tuna and wild fin halibut. But beyond endangered wild fish, Fish2fork ratings also take fish-farm conditions into account. To achieve sustainable aquaculture, feed regime is the important issue: fish should never be fed more than their own weight in seafood.

Seeking sustainably sourced seafood in London? Avoid fish caught using trawlers, which disrupt marine and result in “bycatch”

Fish2fork work up the whole supply chain: with fish suppliers, occasionally fishmongers and mainly restaurants. On the supply-side they work with London’s top fish merchants such as Southbank, Direct Seafood and M&J Seafood to ensure their listings of species are 100% sustainable. But, crucially, they build relationships with chefs: providing a monthly bulletin to the trade about sustainability issues, a platform for chefs to contribute articles, and the opportunity to just call up for advice.

The trend towards sustainably sourced seafood in London is driving the consumption of lesser-known fish and expanding London menus

So has sustainable sourcing shaped London’s fish menus? Working with Fish2Fork, chef Mark Hix has done a great deal to increase awareness and popularise underused species such as cuttlefish. Fish that were once considered unworthy of menu-inclusion by most chefs, are coming back into favour: the gurnard (popular in France but overlooked in the UK) now appears on Richard Corrigan’s Mayfair restaurant’s Sunday menu, while the flatfish dab has been cropping up at Exmouth Market’s Moro. Other ugly (but tasty) fish to look out for are flatfish flounder and roundfish pouting.

Overall, the culinary take-away is that sustainability should be synonymous with quality – whether enjoyed at home or in our city’s buzzing restaurant scene.

14-10-04 seabass dish (1)
A simple sea bass supper, exemplary of sustainably sourced seafood in London (Richard Fairclough Photography)

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