Our #EngageWithOceans initiative, which aims to open a wide-ranging dialogue on the future of the world’s oceans is only a few weeks old, but is already bearing fruit. One of the first of our podcasts dealt with the most fundamental of questions, namely whether we should be eating fish at all, if we wish to save the seas.
It was a question dealt with by Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr of the Norwegian Seafood Council, and by the Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur Michel Roux Junior.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hans Frode, believed that fishing should continue, but made the point that self-interest was already pushing fishermen towards a sustainable ocean.
There are some three million motorized fishing vessels in the world, from the super-trawlers that attract the environmentalists’ attention, to a huge number of much smaller coastal vessels.
As Hans Frode explained, “in Norway, many of the boats are a family business, handed down from grandfather, to father, to son. They recognize their futures and traditions lie with a sustainable fishery”.
Michel Roux agreed but then pointed to his personal responsibility, as a high-profile chef, to ensure that the fish he used were sustainable. “I can track some sea fish, via a tag, back to the individual boat,” he explained, “but there needs to be more of that if we’re to make informed choices.”
He was less complimentary about the multiplicity of certificates and seals of approval across the industry. “Too many and too confusing to rely on,” he said.
Both men, however, saw the aquaculture industry, already a major player in fish production, as the main engine of growth as the decade unrolls. Some 52% of the fish we eat is farmed and the UN see that rising to nearly 60% by 2030.
They were cautiously optimistic.
Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr and Michel Roux Jr.
For Hans Frode, the industry offered growth, in terms of volume, diversity of species and location.
“We are already experiencing rapid growth in aquaculture both along the coast and in the deeper seas offshore. If rising demand for fish is to be met, this is an essential part of the future,” he said.
Perhaps surprisingly, Michel was also perfectly happy to use farmed fish, although, as he pointed out, “I can be pretty choosy about exactly where it comes from”. Quality control, as the owner of high-profile restaurants, was paramount and that was still, it appeared, coming down to issues of personal contact.
The discussion closed on the issue of personal responsibility with both men pointing to the increasing power of the educated consumer.
“My guests and customers are ever more inquisitive about where the fish they’re eating has come from and how it’s been treated,” said Michel, “and I have to have positive answers.”
Hans Frode had also seen changes. “As we export across Europe, we face the same level of enquiry as to location and quality,” he said.
Ecological self-interest, technological change, and the growing power of the ethical consumer seem to be the forces that are shaping the future of the sea fish industry. Nobody denies the need for change and better practice, but perhaps there’s some grounds for hope.