Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sustainable McDonalds?

In a Salon interview with London Telegraph Environmental editor Charles Clover about his book "The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat," he discusses the problem of over-fishing and the sustainability of the humble McDonald's Filet O Fish. Here is an excerpt.
From a consumer's point of view, should we be eating fish at all?
I didn't say in my book, "Don't eat fish." I say, "Don't eat certain fish, don't eat endangered fish." If a fish takes 20 years to double its population, that's a long time. If it takes 30 years before it breeds, don't touch it. But if you eat something that's fast reproducing and not overfished, you should be all right. And there's quite a lot of those species out there. You can eat a hell of a lot of shellfish, a huge amount of mussels and oysters, and your deep-water scallops, with a clear conscience. You can have a really nice fish stew, it's not a problem. But why eat endangered fish? And the slow-reproducing ones are probably going to have mercury in them anyway, so it's a win-win.
I think [cutting back on endangered fish] would be enough of a message to the fishermen of the world and the industries. God knows we're eating a lot of them at the moment. If you go to New York, restaurants seem actively to encourage it.
Yes. You finger some restaurants in your book, including some very well-regarded ones like Nobu and BLT Fish. Did you get a chance to look at BLT Fish's more recent menu? Had anything improved?
It was utterly disgraceful. In terms of endangered fish, there were more on that menu than I've seen on a lot. And the restaurant's gotten worse since I wrote about them in the book. They've got Icelandic halibut, which is a quite amazing fish, and about as sustainable a halibut as you could get in terms of the way it's caught, but it is still an endangered species in the Atlantic. New York chefs are a disgrace. They served caviar for a decade longer than they should have. They serve bluefin tuna because they've kidded themselves that it's a sustainable catch, which it isn't. They serve other things that are overfished, like red snapper.
You also uncover a hidden secret about McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich: that the fish comes from two fisheries actually certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. In other words, McDonald's fish sandwich is more sustainable than Nobu's tuna sashimi. Did that surprise you?
Not really. McDonald's is sustainable because it is a big company and needs continuity of supply, but isn't that arguably a definition of sustainability?
Buying Alaskan pollock as McDonald's does is not a bad practice -- except that they don't seek to advertise their MSC connection, which might mean they would have to pay for the logo. Gambling you can make your fortune before you run out of exotic fish is an individual decision and one Nobu shares with many restaurateurs from Asia.
Despite the grim realities, you do provide a few examples in the book of places where action is being taken, and measures are working to protect fish. Do you sense improvement?
Here and there. It's actually quite instructive over here in Europe because things are much worse than in the U.S. In the U.S., fisheries science means something to people, in places like the Northeast. They've seen what a collapse means and they don't want to go back, so they listen to the scientists. The industry will sit in a room and have a discussion, whereas over here [in Europe] you'll get your legs run over [for talking about it].
Take the Mediterranean, which may be the crucible of civilization but is also the crucible of kleptomania when it comes to fishing. The only fish that come out of the Mediterranean are about 3 inches long because that's the only size that gets through the net. It's a disgrace out there. It's in Europe's backyard, and Europe goes on about how "green" it is, but when it comes to fisheries, the [European Commission] Fisheries Directorate says it's there for the preservation of the fishing industry and fishermen of Europe. It does not conserve fish.
So, I'm not sure we're getting But why hanywhere, but acknowledging the problem is a very big thing.

But why has it gone right, say, in Alaska? In the U.S., we always hear how good the wild Alaskan salmon fishery is.
I think it's like Iceland: When you've got nothing else, you look after it. When you're an island surrounded by cod, if your cod goes down, you are stuffed. I think it's pretty much the same with Alaska; they understand they have a resource they haven't destroyed yet. They were able to act on the basis of other people's mistakes. Sooner or later the message gets across that mistakes have been made and if you're the last one starting out, maybe you're going to make slightly fewer than anyone else.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue eco-label when buying seafood. This will assure you that the seafood has come from a sustainable fishery that is not contributing to overfishing. Find stockists of MSC-labelled fish at