A chef’s experience using the Good Fish Guide to make sustainable seafood choices

Erin O'Neill By: Erin O'Neill
Date posted: 4 May 2018

Chef Caroline Rye, The Urban Fishwife, tells us her experiences using MCS’ Good Fish Guide to make informed choices when buying fish.

Sustainability and the environment are very important to me, both as a professional and home cook. I trained as a chef at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, where I learned about a seasonal and holistic approach to food. Situated by the coast, I was lucky enough to cook with some of the finest seafood the local day boats brought in. I’ll never forget the trolleys of gleaming fresh fish being wheeled into the kitchen for us students to get to grips with! Cooking seasonally and sustainably are a big part of the way I cook; I love having new ingredients at their best every month, including seafood.

However, even as someone who has worked in the fishing industry it’s not always that easy to make an informed choice about the food I buy. Often seafood has a long supply chain that’s not totally clear to the consumer. Many people ask me what fish are sustainable or what is the best choice to make when thinking about the environmental impact.

Using the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide App is one way to help me as a consumer make considered choices when buying fish. One of the biggest advantages is that it’s on my phone, so I have the information to hand when I’m out at the fishmongers, market or supermarket, or even a restaurant. I just search for the fish I’m thinking of buying and it rates it in terms of sustainability, showing which to choose, eat occasionally or avoid.

For each entry it lists where the species is fished or farmed, how it’s caught and which options are best environmentally. I can then ask the fishmonger where they source their seafood from, or check the packet; in many supermarkets this information is listed on the label.

The app also provides recipes and links to the MCS seasonality calendar meaning I can check what else is in season or could work as an alternative. There’s lots of consumer and species information, and more about the management of stocks so it’s a great handy reference tool. If I’m writing a recipe for a magazine or website I find it really useful to have a lot of helpful information all in one place.

I’ve been working on a project to promote the eating of more unusual types of fish, beyond the big five of haddock, tuna, cod, salmon and prawns. I want to get people eating new species, but not those that aren’t a good choice sustainably. The Good Fish Guide has helped me research varieties that are less common on our plates like hake, coley and cockles, and given me inspiration for new ways to cook them.

Sometimes I’m catering for private clients, who can see seafood as a treat for a special occasion. Shellfish is a great sustainable addition to a menu, with mussels, crab and oysters all scoring well on the app so I like to use those when I can. Often I’ll be working to a budget so I can narrow down my choices to what’s seasonal and sustainable, and then look at the costs and what would work well with my menus.

At home I’m usually busy juggling work, travel and family life. I like to have a well-stocked store cupboard for those nights when the fridge is empty and it’s too late to go to the shops. I often use tinned fish like mackerel and anchovies, all of which can be sustainable choices and mean I don’t have to choose between convenience and helping the marine environment.

Try Caroline Rye’s steamed cod with watercress hollandaise and seasonal vegetables recipe. Check out more sustainable seafood recipes from celebrity chefs including Raymond Blanc, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Tom Aikens and more on the Good Fish Guide Fish of the Month page.