Eating seafood responsibly

Chew Hui-Yan The Business Times AsiaOne 21 Apr 14;

From chili crab to cereal prawns, seafood is a firm fixture in Singapore's ever-expanding gastronomical landscape. It would be unthinkable, then, that the likes of red snapper and tiger prawns may cease to exist here.

The threat of such an occurrence is why the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) wants to raise awareness of the issue. hence, they are organising Singapore's first Sustainable Seafood Festival, slated to take place this June.

From June 8-15, eight restaurants including Absinthe Restaurant Francais, Gattopardo Ristorante di Mare and the soon-to-be-opened Seasons Bistro will serve a special menu with seafood supplied by MSC certified distributors such as Indoguna and Lee Fish.

The MSC label means that the seafood was sustainably caught, allowing ocean stocks to be replenished and the ecosystem to remain in balance.

Diners can look forward to environmentally friendly fare such as Blackened Hake Fish Tacos ($16) at the Seasons Bistro and Marinated Chilean Sea bass ($45) at the Conrad hotel's Oscar's.

The Hilton Hotel, which recently announced the removal of shark's fin from its menus, will also participate in the festival with dishes such as Salmon Tartare with Watermelon, Marjoram and Raspberries Vinaigrette (from $33) at its restaurant il Cielo.

Supermarket Cold Storage is also set to expand their existing range of MSC certified products and hold promotions at selected outlets during this one week period.

According to Elaine Tan, CEO of WWF, Singapore consumes 140 million kilogrammes of seafood a year, most of which comes from neighbouring countries such as The Philippines that form the Coral Triangle.

Kelvin Ng, regional director for MSC Asia-Pacific, says that unfortunately, many of the fisheries within the Coral Triangle have not been certified by the MSC.

He also explains that ultimately, consumers have the power to change that. "The reason that fisheries aren't taking that step toward getting certified is consumers aren't asking for it. As such, these fisheries won't spend money to get certified."

At present, consumers can get their hands on tamper-proof MSC certified products at supermarkets such as Cold Storage, NTUC and Sheng Siong. Frozen fish fingers and breaded cod fillets are among the options.

Fresh seafood however, remains available only to restaurants through selected distributors. "It's definitely an eventual goal for the MSC to get fresh seafood out to consumers, but it's hard to ask a business to put out products that people are not asking for," says Mr Ng.

He also explains that awareness remains low as restaurants which may use sustainably caught seafood do not get certified by the MSC. Therefore, the MSC logo is not used on menus and customers are left in the dark about sustainable seafood.

But the executive chef of Absinthe, Francois Mermilliod, explains that becoming MSC certified is not that simple. "I would love to explore that idea; even now we use as much sustainably caught seafood as we can. However, to be certified by the MSC, you can only use products with MSC labels. As a restaurateur, it's impossible to survive because the variety of MSC certified seafood at the moment is too low," says the chef.

Helene Raudaschl, managing director of Indoguna agrees, adding that the variety of sustainable seafood is still very low and priced roughly 15-20 per cent higher than non-sustainably fished seafood.

However, other restaurants such as the Seasons Bistro - set to open on May 5 - says that it is looking into getting certified and using the MSC logo on its menus so as to support the movement.

Other efforts to raise awareness by the WWF include roadshows across Singapore and the distribution of a Singapore Seafood Guide - a pocket-sized booklet that helps consumers choose seafood that is generally sustainably harvested. The booklet, first created in 2010 will be available at all participating restaurants during the week-long festival.

Despite the current low awareness in Singapore, Mr Ng is positive that with the up-coming festival, which WWF and the MSC intend to hold annually, it's only a matter of time before things change.