On average, people in Hong Kong eat an astonishing 72kg of seafood per head annually, which is the equivalent of 7000 pieces of sushi¹! While the idea of eating that much sushi might appeal to some, it also highlights the importance for restaurants in Hong Kong to consider the environmental impact of serving a population which eats three times the global average of seafood¹.
For this month’s Sustainability Breakfast, we welcomed Gloria Lai and Laurence McCook from WWF-Hong Kong, alongside Chef Richard Ekkebus from Amber, recently voted Asia’s Most Sustainable Restaurant, who were able to share invaluable insight into the current seafood situation in Hong Kong and how restaurants can help to make a difference.
Evidence shows that consumers want to eat fish responsibly
While over 90% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully or over-exploited, refreshingly, research conducted by the MSC Sustainable Tuna Guide shows that over 70% of consumers believe that to save the oceans we should consume seafood only from sustainable sources. In fact, 61% of consumers believe restaurants should show sustainable seafood options on the menu.
Photo credits: Gregor Moser
The big issue
Demand for fish in Hong Kong has grown at an unsustainable rate. Over-fishing in the South China Sea has resulted in a 70-95% drop in seafood resources compared to the 1950’s¹. According to WWF-Hong Kong, in a bid to keep up with the growing demand for seafood, including exotic species, HK imports seafood from 170+ countries¹.
Some scientists estimate that, at current rates of decline, most of the world’s marine fish stocks could collapse within our lifetimes. Over-fishing, badly managed fish stock, or fish caught using damaging methods can have a serious environmental impact as well as deplete fish supplies. Modern day slavery is also a significant problem and we must not forget issues around animal welfare.
Photo credits: WWF-Hong Kong
Two major steps to a sustainable solution
WWF-Hong Kong defines sustainable seafood as fishery products that are wild-caught or farmed in a manner that can meet today’s demand while not damaging the ecosystem’s ability to provide the same function for future generations.
Serving sustainably caught fish will help to ensure the future of fish stocks and marine environments.
Step 1: Consider the type of fish you are serving and whether this is an endangered species
WWF-Hong Kong publishes the WWF Seafood Guide, which is a comprehensive assessment of more than 70 types of seafood available in HK. The guide clearly distinguishes between ‘Red’ fish to avoid completely, such as Shark and Swordfish, the ‘Yellow’ category which are species to think twice about, such as Atlantic Salmon and Black Cod, and ‘Green’ which are recommended seafood to serve confidently, including Albacore Tuna and Giant Grouper etc. The guide is also available as a mobile app. The WWF Seafood Guide will release a revised version in September 2020. While it is a most useful guide, our position is that it’s best to use a few sources to compare data since the research is always changing. A few excellent additional options for apps to keep on your phone can include, the i) Good Fish Guide by the Marine Conservation Society, and ii) Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide.
Photo credits: Chuttersnap
Step 2: Understand where your fish comes from
Seafood is either ‘wild-caught’ or ‘farmed’ and it is important to understand more about where your fish comes from by becoming familiar with its chain of custody.
Photo credits: Ganapathy Kumar
Wild-caught seafood needs to be traceable from catch to plate, come from healthy fish populations and caught in season. It should not be captured using destructive fishing methods which may damage seabeds (use of explosives) or create by-catch of threatened species (trawling) etc. Most commonly recommended wild-caught methods include diving, hand line, pole and line and pots. Fish should not be caught during spawning season, which allows the fish stock to replenish healthily. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the most well-known certification of wild-caught seafood.
Photo credits: AFCD Accredited Fish Farm Scheme
Farmed seafood (or aquaculture) should be from sustainably managed fisheries, traceable from fish farm to plate and have minimal impact on the marine life and habitats located around it. Other considerations include the source of fish fry (have the juveniles come from the wild?), the source of fish feed, and whether there is pollution/intensive farming etc involved. For farmed seafood, The Aquaculture Steward Council (ASC) is one of the more common certifications for farmed fish, as well as Global Gap.
Not all fisheries will be able to afford the time and money to become certified so we advise chefs to be open to the option of getting to know their fisher people and suppliers. We can help you ask the right questions to understand the issues.
Once you have identified the most sustainable species and understand more about their origins, think creatively about how you are serving your seafood. Introduce customers to lesser-known alternatives, avoid wastage by creating daily specials, review menus regularly to align with fish seasonality, and consider swapping out some fish dishes for more plant-based alternatives. Be practical and start small if need be. If it is not feasible to switch all seafood to sustainable, choose one to start with, as every bite makes a difference!
Education is key and you can work with suppliers to help them understand more about the importance of sustainable seafood sourcing and what your requirements are. Draft company policies to share with suppliers and your staff, and ensure staff are also well versed. Last but not least, consumers want to know what you are doing, we already know that a majority of consumers want to see ocean-friendly fish dishes, so highlight your options on the menu and through your marketing materials.
Catch the next wave
Look out for our next blog, with insight from Chef Richard Ekkebus from Amber, who, having been raised in a fisherman’s village in Holland, has a natural empathy for issues around pollution and over-fishing and sits on the HK Sustainable Seafood Coalition board. Chef Richard will give a restaurateur’s perspective on how to serve up sustainable seafood responsibly.
A big thank you to our sponsors WWF-Hong Kong and Oatly for their help hosting this event. We’re looking forward to seeing you next month for our next Sustainability Breakfast, on Tuesday 2 June, which will focus on our Environmental Pillar: Reduce, Reuse & Recycle. More news soon.
- WWF-Hong Kong