Source Fish Responsibly Member Story: Vacherin

Zoe Stennett-Cox, Vacherin Our approach to seafood sourcing is simple; to minimise our impact and to contribute to a healthy future for marine wildlife. Our Sustainable Seafood Policy covers a broad range of issues within the fishing industry, such as environmentally-friendly fishing methods, responsible farming methods, seasonality, provenance and species awareness. We achieve these ambitious aims by ensuring all sourcing adheres strictly to guidance from the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide. All new staff are required to commit to our seafood policy; understanding and appreciation of our principles is reinforced when I deliver their mandatory sustainability inductions. Our chefs are the ones making the orders, so it’s particularly important that we communicate effectively with them. I ensure they have the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide app on their phone, as well as printed versions up in every kitchen. The sustainable sourcing message is reinforced right through the business; from our leadership team, the Executive Chefs, Procurement Manager and myself. I make it crystal clear that our aim is for all of the seafood we serve to be either rated a ‘1’ or a ‘2’ by MCS. Sometimes there will be a ‘3’ and very rarely a client will make a special request for a ‘4’. I’ll come back to that challenge and how we deal with it later. Vacherin Cares Sustainable Fish We audit our fish orders regularly and audit all of our suppliers annually, to ensure standards are being maintained. I make a point of visiting the kitchens to reinforce standards with teams, as well as updating sites with the quarterly updates of the Good Fish Guide. To support continual development and a broader understanding of the issues, we also arranged a trip for our chefs to Billingsgate Fish Market to learn how to identify, prepare and cook sustainable fish. An essential part of maintaining our seafood sourcing policy is to work actively with our suppliers, Marrfish and Daily Fish. They both have our policies and when we brought them in we made it clear that these were the standards we wanted them to adhere to. We sent some of the chefs on a trip up to Scotland to go out on the boats with Marrfish last year, as that connection with the supplier and the provenance of our seafood is so important to us. Very occasionally, there can be a difference of opinion between our suppliers and the MCS. Our perspective is that we will always go with the advice from MCS; it is a very complex issue and we have to maintain a consistent policy. It can be really difficult, but I’ve developed a close relationship with the MCS and I can pick up the phone to them any time and ask for their advice. I did come across eel on one site last year. The eel had been accredited by the Sustainable Eel Group, so our Chef had felt confident about purchasing it. However, MCS guidance was that we should not be serving it. To have that clear guidance at the end of the phone is invaluable.

Having a robust seafood policy is an important part of our overall sustainability philosophy and when we tender for new clients we sell ourselves on this, so it’s crucial to ensure we keep on top of it. We have absolutely set the bar at ‘5’s on the MCS list – we won’t serve them. But, if a client requests a ‘4’ then there will be a discussion. We would always offer them an alternative, but if it was for a one-off special dinner and they are insistent I can’t say that we wouldn’t serve it. However, in our cafés where the volumes are much higher that would never happen. 

Our customers do ask questions, generally when there’s something in the news, like when the haddock story broke recently. So we use a number of ways to keep them informed. We publish our approach to fish sourcing in our annual sustainability report, Vacherin Cares; on Fridays we have a poster that tells them that their fish and chips are 100% sustainable; we also have a ‘Did You Know’ table topper telling all about the fish we source. Seafood represents about 30% of what we serve so it’s very important that we continue to maintain our principles on this. Looking ahead, we would love to use a wider variety of fish – including less popular species, but our business model means we need to finely manage that balance between cost and popularity, as well as sustainability.