For Chef Stefan Van Sprang, the state of fish stocks is very important. Indeed, it is a key indicator of a sustainable ocean!
The EU sets the maximum level of fish catches through quotas or limitation of fishing activities, based on independent scientific advice. The more fish in the sea, the more our fishermen are allowed to catch. But when fish stocks decline, we have to reduce the pressure caused by fishing, so stocks can recover.
The good news is that this approach works! Garry and Mairead from Anderson's Boathouse Restaurant recognize that thanks to the quotas, the herring stock is improving. In fact, it is now a thriving species in the Irish sea.
For this campaign, we have made sure that all fish and seafood species caught by wild fisheries was sustainable at the moment the episodes were published. However, the state of the stocks varies year on year, and is dependent on the specific catch area. A species can thrive in one sea basin but be under pressure elsewhere. So we have to adapt our fishing policy every year and count on the highest quality scientific advice.
One of our main sources of scientific advice is ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. This is a top intergovernmental marine science organization, whose work is based on a network of nearly 6000 scientists from over 700 marine institutes. When proposing new fishing opportunities, the Commission always takes into account the ICES advice.
Another major source of scientific advice is our very own STECF, part of the Commission’s Joint Research Centre. We can count on their highly qualified scientific experts for everything related to marine and fisheries biology, fishing gear technology, fisheries economics, fisheries governance, ecosystem effects of fisheries, aquaculture, or similar disciplines.
But what does STECF stand for? You can’t find it on their website, so we’ll tell you: it’s the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries. Did you guess?
In his beautiful garden, Chef Sang Hoon Degeimbre tells us that, like fruits and vegetables, also fish have a season. That season is defined by their breeding and spawning times, when we want to avoid catching the fish so that the population can grow.
Seasonality varies per species and where it is fished, so always check before you buy. Ask your fish monger if the fish you want to buy really is in season, and if not, what are the alternatives. David Skoko also insists on using day-fresh catches of species that are in the right season.
Several calendars exist with information about the seasonality of fish & seafood in your area.
And if you can’t resist the temptation to buy a species that’s not in season, why not check out the frozen options? When slowly defrosted, frozen fish and seafood is still delicious!
Size matters’ according to Italian chef Antonia Klugmann, and when it comes to fish, she is absolutely right. You should only buy fish that is mature and has already reproduced. If not, the fish stocks in our seas will inevitably decline.
The EU’s fisheries policy and national laws put strict standards in place but use your eyes and ask your fishmonger when in doubt!
Danish Chef Christian Puglisi enthusiastically promotes the environmental benefits of shellfish. Indeed, as filter feeders they clean the water, and there's more: shellfish can contribute to mitigate coastal erosion and can even help in our fight against climate change. Did you know that the production of 1kg of mussels only emits 200g of CO2, compared to 34kg of CO2 for 1kg of beef? And what if we told you that you need 8 kg of food to produce 1 kg of beef meat, but 0 kg of food to produce mussels or algae?
No surprise then that shellfish features more than once in this campaign! But why do we call mussels sometimes blue mussels (Danish recipe) and sometimes Black Sea mussels (Bulgarian recipe)? Well, the blue mussels are the species Mytilus edulis (also called 'common mussel)', whereas the Black Sea (or Mediterranean) mussels are the species Mytilus galloprovincialis. But for the purpose of these recipes, you can use whichever mussel is local to your region!
With a population of almost 500 million, the EU cannot only depend on fisheries for its fish and seafood. There simply isn’t enough fish in the sea! That is why we also need aquaculture, which means farming fish, seafood and algae.
Aquaculture also has other advantages. It can be done close to the shore, or even inland, so you always have a fresh, local source of healthy fish and seafood.
Good to know: EU aquaculture has some of the highest environmental standards in the world. In 2022, the European Commission published new sustainable aquaculture guidelines that will help the sector become competitive while taking care of the environment and health of the farmed animals!
So whether farmed or wild, go for European quality and enjoy!
Did you notice that some of our recipes feature seaweeds? This is no coincidence. They are among the most wholesome food products you can find and have a five-star environmental ranking. Here at the European Commission, we therefore want to promote the consumption and production of algae in Europe!
Think about it: seaweed cultivation does not require land, fertilizers or freshwater. It helps to regenerate the marine environment by removing nutrients that cause eutrophication. And rather than emitting CO2, this type of food actually removes carbon (which causes acidification) and produces oxygen. That’s why the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy highlights algae as a promising future protein source, which is also low in fat and rich in dietary fibres, micronutrients and bioactive compounds.
Algae can be used as main ingredient, as a side dish or just mixed in a salad. You can even add algae in your soups as a seasoning.
Chef David Skoko and chef Stavris are cooking with invasive alien species. These are animals and plants that are introduced, accidentally or on purpose, into a natural environment where they are not normally found. And while that may seem quite innocent, it can have serious negative consequences. Invasive species disrupt the balance in the ecosystem and can modify the habitat. Their presence can lead to a reduction of local biodiversity, because they don’t have natural enemies, and their preys are not adapted either, and are therefore very vulnerable.
As invasive alien species do not respect borders (in fact that is the whole point), coordinated action at the European level is needed to address this issue. That’s why since 2015 the EU has a law in place that contains measures for prevention, early detection and rapid eradication, as well as management of those invasive species.
A simple additional measure, which is more fulfilling, is to turn the problem into an opportunity and taste the ocean… through invasive species!
Romanian Chef Sorin Bontea chooses fish from the Danube delta, because he favours local production. This is often a very good choice. It means the fish is fresh and has travelled only a short distance, minimising its CO2 footprint. In addition, our European fishermen and aquaculture producers have been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, they need your support!
Ina Niiniketo prepares delicious boquerones from vendace caught in lake Saimaa. This fish stock has deserved a European protected geographical indication, or PGI, which can be awarded to food products if a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. Saimaa vendace has also deserved a Finnish label of designated origin.
The type of fishing gear used is very important when we look at the impact on the marine ecosystem. Selective gear helps you only fish the species and sizes you are actually targeting, and thereby avoids by-catch. Also, some gear types are less harmful for the seabed than others. The EU and EU countries define which gear can be used under which circumstances.
But using even the most selective gear can lead a stock to collapse if catches are unlimited. In the end, it is a combination of a reasonable amount of fishing pressure and using the right fishing equipment, which delivers sustainable fisheries in the EU.
For unprocessed wild fish, you can find the fishing gear used on the label.
Chef Joan Roca advises us to always use the information available, and he is absolutely right. A lot of information is available on the packaging to help you make the right choice. Since 2014, the EU obliges producers to mention the catch area (for wild fish) and country of production (for aquaculture) on the label, as well as the fishing gear used. Other information such as date of catch/harvest, environmental information or production techniques can be added voluntarily. When such information is not visible, ask for it.
Even though there is no single EU quality label for fish and seafood, there is merit in Frida Ronge’s recommendation to look out for labels. Some aquaculture products carry the EU organic logo, which means that strict production requirements were met related to animal welfare, water quality and sustainable feed.
The most common labels on the market are MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) for wild fisheries and ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) for farmed fish and seafood. Both are private initiatives with involvement from business and civil society. At the moment, there is no comprehensive EU-recognised sustainability logo for fish products. Our goal with the common fisheries policy is to ensure that all fish on the EU market meets the sustainability requirements.
Some scientific or non-profit organisations also provide concrete online guides on which fish is more, or less, sustainable. The most developed example is probably the WWF Seafood Guide. When informing yourself through online sources, make sure to check the scientific basis as well as the granularity of the advice given. What counts for one catch area is maybe not true anywhere else.
EU supports local action groups
Did you know that in your region, fisheries local action groups select and provide funding to local projects? Supported by the EU, these projects contribute to local development, involving thousands of local stakeholders!