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“If fish could talk, they wouldn’t have this problem - if we could give them a geography lesson they’d also be ok.” It’s an odd way to present it, but standing listening to Andrew Sharpless the CEO of Oceana, the world’s largest international advocacy organisation focused solely on ocean conservation, explain why fish would be much better off if they had some basic understanding of geography and a way of making a noise, it sort of makes sense.
“We’d never do what we do to fish, to something like rabbits”, he explains, “rabbits are cute and they make a noise.” He’s right, I bring up dolphins, mammals of course but they reside with the fish, ocean brothers of sorts, an animal we all feel a connection to, people pay big bucks to swim with dolphins, not fish, Sharpless nods in agreement. Together we can’t think of a fish, other than Nemo, that makes a decent noise.
Jokes quickly pushed aside, because this really is no laughing matter, and Sharpless is fast to explain just how bad the situation has got with the world's oceans, "90% of the big fish - the swordfish, the tuna, the biggest fish, are gone compared to 50 years ago." He says this is all down to poor management, massive overfishing, wastefull discards and a number of bad practices concerning how companies are allowed to fish the oceans. That's why it is, of course, a ludicrous understatement to blame the state of our oceans purely on the fact that fish can’t talk but if they did have a voice, perhaps, as Sharpless says, we’d give them less of a hard time.
Being a voice for the Ocean and the millions of fish that call it home is exactly what Oceana do. They work to bring about policy change and new legislation backed by scientific research that can help to conserve and, in many case, replenish the oceans. To date, they say they’ve already helped protect ‘one million square miles’ of the stuff and hope that their latest initiative, to bring together 20 of the world’s best chefs to act as ambassadors for their organisation, is going to strengthen their voice even further.
The group of 20, a VIP 'who’s who' list of some of the most famous chefs working in the industry today, hosted by Andoni Luis Aduriz and Joan Roca, stood together in San Sebastián, Spain, and pledged to focus on cooking smaller (forage) fish such as sardines, anchovies and herring. A way to show just how delicious these fish can be, while also highlighting the bigger problem that most of the forage fish caught around the world is currently used for feeding larger fish in farms, something that Sharpless explains is just not sustainable, “it takes three to four pounds of wild fish to feed one-pound of farmed salmon”.
Oceana have been speaking for the fish for 14 years now and in San Sebastián, Tuesday the 17th of March, on a sun struck beach, they added a booming layer of influential tones to their new 'Save the Oceans, Feed the World' campaign. A collective call from the likes of Ferran Adrià,Gaston Acurio,Grant Achatz and Massimo Bottura to name just a few, here’s what that voice had to say on the day.
Peruvian anchovies alone account for 8-10% of all fish, by weight, caught in the oceans. Yet over 90% of these anchovies are ‘reduced’ into fishmeal and fish oil.
"We’re here and it’s great, we’re going to be ambassadors and when we go back and when we talk people will listen… but it’s going to require politics, legislation and reform, we’re one small cog in this thing. I think for myself and for Daniel Humm, and I assume all of these chefs, but for us in particular it’s important to be representatives for the United States and ultimately when we go home we will be ambassadors to Oceana and the effort to raise awareness and education about sustainable practices.
"I think the most important thing for me and what I’ve gotten out of all this and something that we can improve in our restaurants is that, everyone is focused on 'add small fish to your menu' but I think the initiative equally has to be, what can you remove from your menu? So for me, I didn’t know how devastating farmed shrimp can be to the mangroves and the coastal areas and how it just destroys the habitat - you just think of them as these delicate little things, they can’t eat that much. The American thought process and I assume it’s probably everywhere is, for the most part, organic farmed fish are good because it sounds good until you figure out what really happens.
"What Ferran Adria said is really important, if the elBulli Foundation can create a really specific guideline with some definitive information and distribute that to chefs about the practices that goes into raising say, salmon, turbot, sole, shrimp. What things are good, what things are bad, that in itself will be a huge momentum to chefs."
Just 30 countries (including the EU) control over 90 percent of all the seafood caught in the world.
"What we’re doing here is to encourage chefs to use more small fishe in their dishes so we can spread, to the customers, markets and local families, something that is really nice to eat and because it’s the best way to sustain the oceans and feed more people in the future."
"The idea is that in Peru we have the biggest amount of small fishes in the world and 97% is used in the fish farming industry, it’s not sustainable. The whole idea of this event is to tell everybody that we have a lot of small fishes in the world and they’re delicious to eat."
Managed correctly the oceans could provide enough food to feed one billion people a healthy meal every day.
"I think it’s something good for human beings in general is just starting to happen from different places all over the world. This is a very specific moment for us in Chile in general because fishermen are starting to become very proud and getting into something deep. Our coast creates a big opportunity and mainly because of the Chilean sardine - we use this in our country to feed salmons but this sardine is very specific, high in omega threes and it’s never been out of the water for eating, but the truth is that it’s a delicious fish. It could be the food of the future, like many other animals that have never been out of the water, I keep thinking to myself how many fish are under the water that we are not even conscious about in Chile?
"We’re using lots of rock fish that only fishermen eat but they’re delicious and cheap because people are not eating them. Now it became a trendy thing to eat them in Chile and this us great because chefs want to use them."
In 2014 alone, scientists identified 1,451 new species in the world’s oceans.
"Today’s important for people like me who are in a very important position in influencing our customers on the choices they make with the seafood they eat.
"We’re all starting our journey to learn about these things. One of the things I really have taken from this idea which I’ve already started to do but I’m going to try and develop my national fish in England, the one that I feel I’m responsible for and that’s mackerel. We take the mackerel and the first thing we do is take the fillets off and we’ve got two beautiful pieces of fish for an a la carte starter or cut in half to go for tasting - so four tastings out of a normal sized mackerel. Then the small pieces on the end we’re using for drying and using that to season vegetables for a different dish. The bones we’re smoking over peat and drying them to make a custard that gets served with some shellfish bones and a vinaigrette of pearl barley and turnip. This approach allows us to buy the very very best and pay the most amount of money to these small fishermen who need it, but we’re also then getting economy and respect out of using the whole product."
The worldwide catch of all fish has been in decline since the 1980s, this because of overfishing.
"Osteria Francescana is always serving wild like my mind, my mind is walking on the wild side all the time, I’m not walking in a comfortable way, I’ve always been on the other side because it’s part of my personality. Thinking about what I did in the past serving a crust of Parmigiano or a sardine instead of lobster or something like a white truffle is maybe serving more emotion. We grew up with that kind of flavour forever sardine, herring - those are plates that I create. It’s a social scale that is going up, it’s message like a potato wants to be a truffle, be humble and stay a sardine because a sardine is better than anything."
Reduction fisheries (fisheries that produce food and oil used in feed) account for an enormous 37% of all the marine fish caught worldwide according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
"To play a small part in a very very large start and new direction for awareness of trying to replenish the sea in a small but big, gradual way, in amongst these guys to be sat there with them I didn’t think that would ever happen.
"It’s been something that’s been very important to us for many years is finding something, knowing where it comes from, how its grown and what area it’s fished from… For example, Lobster. We use one guy from Cornwall and we take all the lobster from his vessel for the three-and-a-half-months that we put lobster on the menu - we go down there and meet the fishermen so there’s that real trust but you know who is bringing it.
"A lot of these species have got to get to the consumer, we’re only feeding a small amount of fish and we’re here to try and influence other chefs and have some sort of impression on public as well. When you start talking about global feeding of people with unknown species or a size of species that’s normally thrown back into the water, you’re looking at food industries and supermarkets so it’s a massive challenge but it’s got to start somewhere."
"The UN estimates that the world must produce 70% more food to meet expected greater demand from a growing population."
"It’s a very crucial topic. I think all of us chefs spend our lives working with these ingredients and I can say that me personally, I know so little about this and since I’ve worked with Oceana for the past year I’ve realised how much I don’t know and how much there is to learn and I think we’re all in the same boat. I’ve changed my thinking and my thinking will evolve and I will employ these ideas at the restaurant. For us the way we can really change things is to have a relationship with the people on the ground.
"Oyster farming has grown in New York, New York used to be called the Oyster Island, it was the biggest producing oyster place in the world. Then the water got polluted and they died and went away, in the past 10 years many farms have come back and been successful so it’s a sign that the waters are getting cleaner. Also, oyster, clams or mussels help to clean the oceans because they’re feeding off the algae and it’s a really good thing, so if we consume a lot of oysters that means oyster farms are growing and the waters are getting cleaner."
"In the lat 10 years I’ve learned about fish I never knew existed, before that I worked with about 10 fish and over the last few years we learn about new fish every year. Trigger fish, tile fish, blue fish, black fish - that’s just to name a few."
United Nations data shows that 85-90% of all commercial fisheries in the world are fully fished, over fished or recovering from over fishing right now.
"We’re doing three things. The first thing is I have more and more fish from our country coming from the river like trout or some sweet water fish. The second is that I love to cook with the smaller fish like mackerel, I already do this now and I think what if you buy a big fish you should be thinking about and looking that the fish is not caught by net, that it must be caught by line. These are the three things I can do in my restaurant to do my bit to help save the oceans."
“The Bay of Biscay anchovies, the Norwegian cod - There are many case studio that show how scientific management and the stopping of over fishing can help fisheries rebound very quickly.”
"My big fight for a long time is still about traceability, traceability about everything; meat, vegetables and fish. We have a lot of nice shell fish and wild fish but it must be consumed in season - fish are like carrots, like morel - you can’t get morel if there is none - we use lobster for just a month and a half. Nine years ago I stopped to serve all tuna but the problem is that all the restaurants around me still keep going and sell Tuna. Customers come to my restaurant and say you don’t lots of variety of fish and I explain it’s because we take care about this. Then at one point I learned that fish organisation in Canada give 50 licenses a year to catch line caught tuna - so one month a year I serve tuna because I know the fishermen who have the tags who have a permit to catch just one tuna - six years ago all these tuna went straight to Japan but we go to see them (the fishermen) and show them the way we like to have it caught, and that we pay more to save it in our own backyard, last year we saved around six and kept them in our country.
"In around 1985-87 we had a big problem with poisoning of oysters and a few years after, the government did a lot. Now all the oysters have a tag, the day caught, the day sent to a city, we can find the people who caught the oyster - if we do it for oyster why don’t we do it for everything? Squid, mackerel - we have beautiful mackerel in quebec but many of the mackerels are caught, frozen and used to catch lobster and the government open the mackerel quota just before the lobster season, we don’t get it for us, we have a lot of fighting to do but it’s just the beginning."
Forecasts predict that The European Union fisheries, which have been badly overfished, are now coming back and that by the year 2220 there will be 40% more abundance in the European oceans compared to a 2012 base, a result of the Common Fisheries Policy that was put in place just a year ago.
José Luis González
"In my case I’m four years and a half in the Philippines and I would like to have fresh fish in my restaurants but right now it’s almost impossible. When I arrived to the Philippines I was working in a hotel and 90% of the fish was frozen and later when I opened my restaurant it was easier to get fresh fish from the Atlantic than from the Philippines. So I started to say what can I do to find these fish, no body knows what the fish of the Philippines are… we start to travel round the Philippines and find some fish, build a community and get this into my restaurants.
"We have an oyster from Aklan that is one of the provinces in the Philippines - if it’s a French oyster they pay 300 pesos per piece but if it’s local oyster, one sack of 50 kilos cost 100 pesos. You can not compare if it’s better or worse, this is one of the problems, you have to eat an ingredient as a chef and say what’s the difference and how can I bring out that taste - for example, the oyster here in the Atlantic is more iodine, more salty and more powerful, in our ocean the temperature is higher so the taste of local oyster is little bit more sweet, less iodine and less saltiness so we pair with local seeds that give some of the sweetness and some okra seeds that give saltiness and the iodine.
"If we stop dreaming we are not chefs anymore and today some of this dreams are becoming a reality."
Andoni Luiz Aduriz (Mugaritz, Spain)
Joan Roca (El Celler de Can Roca, Spain)
Ferran Adrià (elBulli Foundation, Spain)
Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana, Italy)
Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park, USA)
Ashley Palmer-Watts (Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, UK)
Alex Atala (D.O.M., Brazil)
Juan Mari and Elena Arzak (Arzak, Spain)
Pedro Subijana (Akelaŕe, Spain)
Grant Achatz (Alinea, USA)
Brett Graham (The Ledbury, UK)
Joachim Wissler (Vendôme, Germany)
Heinz Reitbauer (Steirereck, Austria)
Gastón Acurio (Astrid y Gastón, Peru)
Enrique Olvera (Pujol, Mexico)
Rodolfo Guzmán (Boragó, Chile)
Normand Laprise (Toqué, Canada)
José Luis González (Gallery Vask, Philippines)
René Redzepi (Noma, Denmark).