SeaWeb Europe and Olivier Roellinger are committed to ensure that future generations will have fish to eat.
Elisabeth Vallet, director of the SeaWeb Europe Association and Olivier Roellinger, a chef based in Cancale, France, and vice-president of Relais & Châteaux, are doing their best to change mentalities and rally the industry to endorse sustainable fishing. Their ultimate goal? To create an ethical chain from fisherman to consumer.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR ELISABETH VALLET AND OLIVIER ROELLINGER
What do you say to people who claim no amount of sustainable fishing will be able to feed 7 billion people?
O.R.: I ask them if they think the forest can supply 7 billion people with protein from hot-blooded animals all by itself. Of course not. It is clear there will be no more fishing at all in a few years at the rate we're going. But that's a great example of what sustainable fishing is. A lot of fishermen are making a living from a carefully-regulated scallop-farming industry. Fishing is banned in the summer and spring and then controlled for the rest of the year. There would be no more scallops now if that regulation had not been passed.
E.V.: We need to see sustainable fishing as the only long-term solution for protecting wild marine resources whereby we respect the ecosystem and are able to keep using these great protein sources long into the future. A source of protein for 7 billion people cannot come from fishing alone. But we must keep in mind that fish is the primary, and sometimes the only, source of protein for many people in the developing world.
Where is the balance between consumption and ecology?
E.V.: We have to inform people, raise their awareness, find better practices and diversify what we consume. The most popular species in France are cod, tuna, salmon and shrimp. Consumers have a hard time switching to other types of seafood because they don't know them well. Luckily, chefs are trying to start a new trend by bringing back forgotten unfamiliar species that are just as good as the others and quite abundant.
O.R.: It's not about punishing consumers or fishermen. But they need to be better informed. A lot of chefs care about ecology when it comes to things like vegetables and dairy products. But as soon as you step away from the coast, they are totally ignorant about the ocean. They don't care at all about the seasons, fishing techniques or the size of fishing nets. That is why Relais & Châteaux has started educating its top 520 chefs worldwide, who are members of the association and often set an example for others to diversify menus by cooking with mackerel, pollock, horse mackerel and red mullet. They are all delicious and little-known types of fish.
What advice would you give to consumers?
E.V.: That's a tricky question because it's not easy for consumers to find information on choosing sustainable species. They have to ask their fishmonger or local restaurant questions like: "Where is this fish from? Is there a good supply? What method was used to catch it? Did it reach maturity?"
O.R.: The first thing to do is ask your fishmonger for advice. Then remember that eating is for pleasure. You can't say to yourself, "I won't eat that because it's not allowed." The ocean is an amazing pantry where nothing is lost, but we cannot waste it or destroy it. Preparing a fish dish requires special care and attention, using the entire fish (and not limiting oneself only to the fillet), and by treating this beautiful food item that is fish with a gentle respect. This would be my recommendation to any cook, whether they be professional or amateur.
What will it take to get the entire seafood industry to adopt sustainable fishing?
E.V.: Environmental groups have been alerting the public on these issues and, at times, have built up enough pressure to get things moving. That is what happened with bluefin tuna, for example. Some industry professionals have also gotten involved and started changing their practices. On a broader scale, we have to keep informing people, raising awareness, getting the producers and buyers involved, and promoting best practices. It took some time for stakeholders in the sector to take action on this issue. Mentalities and habits are changing, but there is still a lot to be done. SeaWeb is rightfully acting as a guide to help industry professionals (fishermen, fish merchants, wholesalers, big name distributors, fishmongers and restaurant owners) put sustainable practices in place.
O.R.: A great amount of seafood is not eaten by consumers in their homes, so menu development plays a crucial role for chefs, who are the acting opinion-leaders. Quality has to go hand in hand with respect for the oceans. My generation was only concerned about price and freshness. The problem is that we categorized fish based on how easy it was to store. The king and queen of fish in France are turbot and sole because they keep fresh the longest. So, I have one question for the industry: How can we shorten the time, which can be more than 10 days, between when the fish is caught and when it goes on the plate? And how do we promote fish that may be more delicate but can now be consumed without a problem because of the cold chain?
In partnership with the Ferrandi Culinary School in Paris and the Dinard Hostelry School, Relais & Châteaux and SeaWeb Europe have been holding a competition since 2011 on protecting ocean resources. How has that experience been?
O.R.: We came up with the idea for the competition on the back of a napkin at a bistro in Brussels. For four years now, a lot of eager young cooks have competed because they want their education to be aligned with the issues facing society. There is no problem getting the younger generation involved –they join the cause immediately. More than anything, we have to convince the parents, teachers and chefs who are already established.
E.V.: Chefs play a vital role in the industry in that they can push their suppliers early in the chain with their selection criteria and get them to offer sustainable products. They are also in direct contact with consumers at the other end of the chain. So they can help change people's eating habits, introduce them to new species and change mindsets. We started the competition to get the next generation of chefs on board. In 2016, this groundswell is also going to spread throughout Europe because we are opening the competition up to various European countries.