River Cottage chef crowned king of seafood sustainability

Thursday, 31 October, 2013

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has emerged victorious in an unofficial Iron Chef of Seafood Sustainability ranking conducted by the University of York’s Environment Department. The university ranked ten celebrity chefs’ cookbooks published between 2005 and 2012 according to the sustainability of the seafood they feature.

The River Cottage chef came in at number one, with an average score of 87%, while Delia Smith finished at the bottom of the table with scores between 17 and 22%. Despite once encouraging diners to eat orange roughy - an endangered fish - Gordon Ramsay rose from the bottom of the table in 2007 to take third place in 2012.

Raymond Blanc received the ‘most improved’ award: his score rose from 22% in 2005 to 85% in 2011. This reflects an overall improvement in sustainable seafood inclusions in cookbooks from most chefs in recent years.

Sales of products endorsed by celebrity chefs often increase following the release of their books, says Polly Bowman, who carried out the research as part of her MSc degree in Marine Environmental Management. A popular chef could have a significant impact on consumers’ buying habits by declaring their ethical leanings, Bowman suggests.

“We should not shy away from increased promotion of seafood sustainability in popular culture as it offers a potentially important way of reducing pressure on the marine environment,” said Dr Bryce Stewart, who supervised Bowman’s work.

“There is increasing evidence that demand for sustainable seafood is leading to improvement in both fisheries management and the health of certain fish stocks. The everyday actions of people in their kitchens really can make a difference to the future of our oceans.”

“Shopping sustainably for fish is not about being perfect and beyond reproach all the time, it's just about being aware that some choices are a vote for a better way of fishing, and of managing fish resources, and making these choices as often as we can,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall.

“I’m delighted if my actions are helping to encourage others to think about these issues and make more informed choices when they buy and cook fish.”

The research team used data from the Marine Conservation Society’s www.fishonline.org website to score the sustainability of the average gram of seafood in each book. This was combined with a grading of the introduction, recipes and alternative suggested species in each book to produce an overall sustainability score.

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