Last month I visited the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world: Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan. The market handles more than 400 types of seafood valued at approximately $7 billion Canadian every year. Products arrive from all over to be sold during a lively early-morning auction. They are then sent to restaurants, hotels and caterers to serve to customers all over Japan and beyond.
Strolling through the miles of aisles at the market it is easy to see the species are, of course, different from ours in Canada. The first questions that pop into my head are: what is that and where is it from? While my guide can tell me the species typically, there is little information about the origin of the fish, how it was caught or if, in fact, it is endangered.
The experience has me thinking more intently about how much seafood we eat and where my seafood comes from. And more importantly: the responsibility I have to event attendees to know more about what I am serving when I order seafood on their behalf.
While many of us have heard about and use the U.S.-based Seafood Watch program as a tool to source sustainable seafood, less has been shared about two great Canadian-based programs that can help you source responsible seafood for your Canadian event.
Although many of us live near a coast in Canada, few of us buy fish directly from a fisher anymore. We rely on chefs and their distributors to source on our behalf for events. This separation between the planner buyer and fisher means it’s rare you know who caught your fish, how they caught it, where it was caught and if it is from sustainable stock.
This Fish is a tagging system that allows you to trace that information – from ocean to plate – using a simple code and mobile website. Chef Rob Clark of Vancouver’s C Restaurant describes the process and virtues of seafood traceability in this video from This Fish.
What I love about this program is that it not only that provides easy-to-use assurance you are getting quality fish in the palm of your hand, but it also allows me to share the story of where event attendee meals came from, which enhances their experience and connection with the destination.
Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise
Diners in B.C. in particular will be familiar with the Ocean Wise symbol, a label that often appears on restaurants and menus to assure customers of a responsible seafood choice. What many don’t realise is that participation in Ocean Wise is available to any Canadian business that regularly serves, provides or sells seafood, including event caterers. From coast to coast to coast!
Ocean Wise selections are reviewed to ensure they are best choices in terms of:
- Abundance of species
- Being from well-managed stocks based on current research
- Limited bycatch of vulnerable species
- Least damaging fishing methods
To join Ocean Wise, partners fill in an application and are required to remove or replace at least one unsustainable item on their menu and highlight the sustainable options with an Ocean Wise logo. Partners are also asked to continue to remove or replace unsustainable items at a suggested rate of one item every six months.
The Ocean Wise website provides a database of caterers, restaurants and seafood suppliers that can come in handy for an event planner or chef looking for sustainable seafood.
While many event caterers will make blanket statements that they source responsible seafood, in my experience it is very important to check the sustainability credentials of every seafood item you serve. Over half the options I verify for clients cannot be traced or confirmed to be sustainable.
For example, I recently audited a VIP reception menu for a corporate client who was holding an event in Florida. The menu included two seafood options: one of which upon further research was learned to be an endangered species that is subject to illegal harvesting and another that was from a controversial open-ocean fish farm. Both selections were included on the menus after a request to ensure seafood sustainability was made. It wasn’t until we required more traceable information that we couldn’t be assured of responsible sourcing, and options were adjusted for better choices using sustainable seafood tools like the ones above.
So buyer beware: Fishy business is more common than not when you source seafood for events. Take advantage of these programs to bring the best quality fish to your attendee’s plate. And support those Canadian caterers, restaurants, hotels and suppliers who use them.