Pushing sustainable fishing, one plate at a time
Top hotels and restaurants in Manila, environmental groups and non-profit pro-fisheries organizations are bringing the sustainable fishing advocacy closer to diners.
Recognizing the power of product buyers and diners, non-profit organization Rare Philippines and Swiss-led seafood trading company Meliomar Inc. have joined forces to promote sustainably fished marine products from a community of small-scale fishers in Antique province among top-rated hotels and restaurants in Metro Manila.
The idea is to get as many high-end establishments to buy fish, crustaceans and other marine products from communities where the fisherfolk use non-invasive fishing gear, catch non-endangered, adult-sized marine species, fish in the right areas (avoiding protected areas and marine sanctuaries) and follow proper handling/storage under traceability standards.
“Traceability is the core of our Artesmar Yellowfin Fishery Improvement Program for tuna. Consumers have access to information around our tuna products—from where our fish was caught to the status of the stock, including the name of fishers. This helps ensure that marine environment is not harmed so we can all enjoy fish while helping municipal fishers with profitable livelihood,” said Christian Schmidradner, general manager of Meliomar Inc.
Rare Philippines, Meliomar and their partners conducted the Sustainable Seafood Week last week to serve as a platform for sharing best practices in sustainable fisheries and raise awareness among seafood consumers on the problems plaguing Philippine seas, particularly on the issue of unsustainable fishing practices that not only harm the marine environment but also threaten the country’s fisheries industry.
Officials of Meliomar talked about increasing trade for marine resources and showcased various dishes for fish coming from a community of small-scale fishers in Antique to become more sustainable. Hosted by Marco Polo Hotel Ortigas and The Café at Hyatt City of Dreams, ‘From the Fisher to the Diner’ cooking and food tasting sessions demonstrated the challenges faced by fishermen all over the Philippines, and the kinds of conservation solutions they need to implement in order to reverse the decline in their fish stocks.
“We have built a clientele of top hotels and restaurants who rely on us to source sustainably-caught tuna for their needs. We have been looking for ways to expand this product line, but it’s been a challenge to find fisheries that meet our sourcing criteria. We are happy to be working with Rare to see how we can help communities work towards sustainability,” Schmidradner said.
Meliomar is studying what other fish species in the Philippines can be promoted to top hotels and restaurants as “sustainably fished,” he said.
Rare Philippines vice president Rocky Sanchez Tirona said it would take a collective movement of environmentally conscious chefs, hotel managers and diners to push demand for marine products caught through a sustainable method. This, in turn, is seen to give economic support to small-scale fishers willing to fish in a more sustainable manner and build momentum for marine resource conservation throughout the Philippines.
“It’s hard for fishers to change their behaviors—the pressures of earning a living daily are just too great. But with support from private companies, their customers, and ultimately, the diners who patronize them, we hope to create better incentives for fishers to do the right thing,” she said.
Rare is a nongovernment organization that has been working with more than 35 municipalities in the Philippines since 2010, helping local leaders set up better fishery and protected area management systems and inspire behavior change among fishers and their communities.
Proponents of Sustainable Seafood Week are Rare Philippines Fish Forever, Meliomar Inc., Disciples Escoffier International Asia, Blueyou, Center for Sustainability, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Pemsea, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and leading hotels and restaurants in the country such as Fairmont Hotel, Hyatt City of Dreams Manila, Marco Polo Ortigas, Marriott Manila Hotel, The Peninsula Manila, Shangri-La Hotels, Fairmont Raffles, New World Makati, Alab, Le Club, Lulu Hooch and Vask.
In a joint statement, they shared the objective of Sustainable Seafood Week: “The future of seafood is in the hands of people preparing the fish while ensuring that fresh sustainable seafood is available for their valued customers to enjoy. And we call upon consumers to do their share by being vigilant and conscious about the seafood that they are eating.”
Tirona said consumers could do their part by educating themselves on the kinds of seafood species to stay away from, such as sharks and rays, juvenile or undersized fish, and crabs that are gravid (with eggs). “If you love to eat seafood, start asking restaurants where the fish on their menu comes from and how it was caught. This way, restaurants will know there is a demand for sustainably caught fish, and will support fishers who are more responsible,” Tirona said.
Rare is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia in the United States but has regional offices in Indonesia, China, Mozambique, Brazil, and the Philippines— where it implements a targeted strategy to address overfishing by empowering near-shore fishing communities to sustainably manage their fisheries while increasing food security, improving livelihoods, conserving important marine habitats, and creating coastal climate resilience.
The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, which is the center of marine biodiversity in the world. Our waters are rich with marine life—however, more than 90 percent of Philippine fish stocks are seriously overexploited or depleted, due to pollution and destructive or illegal fishing practices.
“In the last 15 years, I realized that working with sustainable products was not only my responsibility as a person, but a bigger responsibility as a chef,” says Chef Chele Gonzalez of Gallery Vask.
“Sustainability plays a huge role in our philosophy as we want to preserve the raw products of the Philippines and this includes the local seafood. We have to relay this message not just within the food and beverage industry but more importantly to the public and to our guests who eat our food. It is good for them to know that they are contributing to the sea’s sustainability and are creating an environment of change with every plate.”
“This is a huge validation for fisherfolk communities who have been struggling to fight for our rights and our place in the sun,” says Jeremie L Jumao-as, a local fisherfolk from Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Tunahan Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro.
“The continued patronage by these hotels and restaurants will allow us to inform and train our fellow fishers on the proper way to catch fish to continue supplying quality seafood to both local and foreign markets.”
“The Sustainable Seafood Week is a wonderful collaboration by stakeholders and shows a strong desire to help our seas recover from overfishing and ecosystems degradation,” said Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines. “We urge the government and the rest of the players in the fisheries sector to play an active role and find ways to champion the marine environment to ensure that we will always have seafood to enjoy and savor now and in the future.”
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