Mitch Tonks, Sean Cooper, Mike Naidoo, Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr: 'I think about the fish supply that goes through supermarkets at the moment [...] It’s shocking, there has to be a better way'

The  Staff Canteen

With sustainability and environmental issues at the forefront of many people's minds, the way fish is supplied to both restaurants and consumers across the UK is changing.

We spoke to Mitch Tonks, owner of Rockfish restaurant and founder of fish delivery service, Seafood at Home; Sean Cooper and Mike Naidoo, respectively the owner and head chef of Catch at the Old Fish Market and Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr, director of Seafood from Norway about how they are working to create a more sustainable seafood supply chain. 

All three have a mission statement of providing consumers with fish; but their methods and opinions on how to do so sustainably differ.

Sea to plate

Fish home delivery service Seafood at Home has its own fishing boat, and works with buyers who walk the auction that the fish are taken to once caught. These buyers bid for the fish, which is then prepared and put up for sale on the Seafood at Home website. Some of this fish also goes to the Rockfish restaurant.

This allows them to avoid the traditional fish supply chain, which Mitch called "archaic."

"I think about the fish supply that goes through supermarkets at the moment and you see all this seafood, plastic packaging, going through multiple hands before it even gets to a fish counter. Then you look at the wastage at the fish counter. It’s shocking, there has to be a better way.”

The buying-to-order model that Seafood at Home lessens the chance that any fish will be wasted, all the while reducing plastic use - with the aim of eventually going from having a net-zero impact to a positive impact, helping to remove pollution from the sea.

Mitch explained: "We devised packaging that is made from already recycled plastic. You can send it back to us free of charge and we’ll reuse it, or you can fold it straight down flat and curbside it.”

“The insulation is made from plastic bottles reclaimed from the ocean. Eventually, we’ll be going to all of the plastic that we use will come from reclaimed ocean plastic.”

In a similar vein, restaurant Catch at the Old Fish Market gets its fish as freshly as possible from the Weyfish market located below the restaurant.

As well as their own two dayboats, the fishmongers work directly with the small owner-operated Weymouth fishing community. Fish from these day boats is far more sustainable than trawlers especially as they use more sustainable fishing methods such as rod and line and lobster pots.

It’s a really short supply chain to ensure the fish is as fresh as possible - the boats land daily to Weyfish, the fishmonger weighs in and prepares their catch and Head Chef Mike Naidoo selects the freshest fish and shellfish for the table. 

The restaurant favours less well-known British fish. Restaurant owner Sean Cooper went as far as to say that he wants to make the once-snubbed Grey Mullet famous. 

Both ventures have seen a change in peoples buying habits.

For example, before Catch served Grey Mullet, the fishmongers would rarely sell it, but now, Mike explained, many guests to the restaurant are visiting expressly to eat it.

"We’re seeing much more demand for that as a raw product off of the fishmongers downstairs,” Sean said, and that has happened with other types of fish they use at the restaurant, like Skate (ray wing). 

Fishing boats can't feed the world

Norway Seafood, on the other hand, continues to import vast quantities fish to the UK, as despite changing habits which have seen consumption of fish in the UK plummet by 25 percent in the past 10 years, the average Briton eats approximately 8 kilos of fish a year.

By and large, UK consumers still want to eat the staples of salmon, cod, haddock, prawns and tuna more than anything else: these represent between 60-80 percent of all consumption in the UK.

For director Hans, affecting change to the sustainability of the supply chain is only possible through scrupulous monitoring and innovation - to decrease wastage, keep track of fishing reserves and improve logistics.

"Sustainability is about the whole supply chain," he explained, "and it´s important to have continuous focus on these matters and use new technology when it is available. The industry is also in front on pushing new innovations."

Sustainability Outside of Food

Beyond fish supply,  Rockfish, Catch and Seafood from Norway are focused on making every aspect of their businesses sustainable. Rockfish is seeking to achieve B Corp certification, a designation asserting that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials, as, Mitch said: “Every step of the way on this project we’ve just been thinking about ‘what is the impact?’, ‘what can we do to lighten it?’"

Likewise, Catch heats its building sustainably, recycles any fish waste product into bait for fishermen, uses recyclable paper napkins, and even uses sustainably made hand soap. Along with that all of their delivery vehicles are electric and powered using hydropower.

“I think the sustainability question goes much broader than the food," Sean said.

Buying local and Supporting the Local Community

For both Sean and Mike, sustainability means more than sea-to-plate: for them, it means buying local and supporting the local community as well.

“The whole genesis of Catch is if it can be sourced in Dorset, it will be sourced in Dorset,” Sean explained, and by buying local they not only supports the local community through their purchases but also creates a vibrant local economy.“The whole point of Catch is that it creates a reason to come to Weymouth,” he said.

“How do you create meaningful jobs and careers and employment opportunities for people in coastal communities which are busy for seven months of the year and not busy for five months of the year? Well, you create a reason for people to come to your destination."

But for Hans, there is a distinction to be drawn between "local" and "hyperlocal."

"Buying local is, of course, important, but 'local' can also be defined as buying from neighbouring countries rather than to ship goods from the other side of the world. There are also important foods that are not available locally and every country is dependent on a well-functioning world trade," he said.

While Brexit has led to price fluctuation and more logistical challenges for companies such as Seafood from Norway, they have overcome these by sending cargos directly from Norway to the UK, bypassing the EU entirely. 

"Exporters and importers are complaining about some red tape that needs to be solved and there are issues around seafood from Norway that are exported via the EU. To be secure, it is best for the exporters to send the seafood directly from Norway via ship," Hans explained.

Leading the charge with small-scale exchanges, businesses like Rockfish and Catch are a good influence for consumers, and big corporations, making all involved more accountable for their decisions. Crucially, the consumer is still king.

For Seafood from Norway, it is important to communicate well with customers about where the seafood comes from to engage consumers and build a relationship of trust with them as to the provenance and sustainability of what they are buying. 

"Sustainability issues are very important for the seafood sector and this is an area where we should have a lot of focus," Hans said. 

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th January 2022

Mitch Tonks, Sean Cooper, Mike Naidoo, Hans Frode Kielland Asmyhr: 'I think about the fish supply that goes through supermarkets at the moment [...] It’s shocking, there has to be a better way'