In the tiny town of Scrabster in north-east Scotland, a small, traditional restaurant that only opens six months a year has made its relationship with the sea an example for new generations of chefs and food professionals. In a time when sustainability dominates industry discussions, good practices can go very far.
By following their own beliefs in a simple, traceable and more sustainable business model that measures its impact on the surrounding environment, Jim and Mary Cowie opened Captain's Galley in 2002. One year before, the couple started renovating the old town's Ice House and Salmon Bothy (which dates back to the early 1800s) to create their own business.
With only 30 seats and an unbreakable rule of serving seafood only when in season, the small restaurant gained prominence when, in 2015, it was crowned the joint winner of the UK's most sustainable venue by the Sustainable Restaurant Awards, beating some highly acclaimed restaurants.
But even before the awards, the couple had already set their standards for a worthwhile relationship with the ingredients they serve — and with the people who supply them. All of the restaurant's seafood is from wild, sustainable non-pressure stock species, in season, from local inshore fishermen.
Photo courtesy of Captain's Galley
“With our ethos to ‘live in harmony with people, technology and nature’, modern technologies and means of communication keep us constantly in touch with like-minded fishermen,” Jim Cowie explains. This allows him to monitor the sea areas in which the boats are fishing, meaning at all times he has the freshest in-season non-pressure stock fish and seafood, and can avoid ‘out of season’ (breeding fish) and also ‘non quota’ endangered species.
Cowie says all their business decisions, from sourcing to cooking, fall within the rules defined in a “six pillar policy” (sustainability, seasonality, integrity, traceability, simplicity and nutrition) adopted by all staff in Captain’s Galley. The main concern he has is related to the destructive fishing methods employed by foreign fishing boats, as he says, which currently torture millions of sea birds and mammals, leading them to a slow and cruel death; and the dumping of incalculable tons of plastic nets, ropes and fish hooks, continuously ‘ghost fishing’, polluting and poisoning our seas.