Whether it’s a fish supper at home or a night at a hip sushi hangout, seafood is one of dinnertime’s little treats. However, it could soon be a thing of the past – according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 80 per cent of the world’s main fish stocks are considered to be either fully exploited, overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. Similarly, UAE waters have suffered a sharp decline in key fish stock, plummeting 80 per cent over the past three decades. Time is running out.
Last year, Time Out previewed the Choose Wisely Campaign, run by the Emirates Wildlife Society and World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF), which features several initiatives to help raise awareness about the plight of our oceans and what we can do to help reverse the trend.
‘The EWS-WWF Sustainable Fisheries Project and the Choose Wisely Campaign are focusing on the UAE at present, with information provided on local species fished in UAE waters,’ explains EWS-WWF conservation officer Darren Hiltz. ‘Since its launch in April 2010, the project has focused on the Choose Wisely awareness campaign. It aims to promote well-managed, healthy fisheries and provide UAE residents with specific, practical steps they can take to reduce fishing pressure on vulnerable species that are being rapidly depleted.’
As big a task as this sounds, it’s actually rather simple. The EWS-WWF is encouraging UAE residents to eat fish species that aren’t endangered, avoiding those that are becoming dangerously depleted. The EWS has categorised 22 species of local fish into three lists according to their level of sustainability: the red list features species that could really do without being eaten; the orange list includes species that are still within sustainability levels, but won’t be for long, while the green list includes sustainable options that the EWS are encouraging consumers to choose. See our boxout on the opposite page for the full list of suggested choices.
While it’s up to consumers to choose wisely and opt for ‘green- listed’ fish, hotels and restaurants also have a responsibility to serve sustainable options. The logic of supply and demand dictates that suppliers, ergo the fishing industry, will respond accordingly and if the demand is for sustainable fish, then all the better.
Of course, the fiercely competitive nature of Dubai’s restaurant scene has meant that many hotels and restaurants were initially reluctant to deny their customers of favourites such as hammour. When Time Out spoke to EWS about the Choose Wisely Campaign last year, there was, to their knowledge, only one restaurant (in Abu Dhabi) that was serving only sustainable fish dishes. A year on, we’re pleased to report that many of Dubai’s top restaurants are making a stand. Excitingly, the Jumeirah Group is currently in the process of limiting unsustainable fish dishes served at its hotels. A statement sent to Time Out explains that it has introduced regulations regarding the use of endangered fish species across all its dining outlets, and states: ‘The use of shark fin and blue-fin tuna has been excluded from the menus of all Jumeirah-operated restaurants. Alternatives containing sustainable fish species have been introduced. The use of orange-spotted grouper (hammour), king fish and Chilean sea bass has been limited.’
The Dubai branch of popular venue Jamie’s Italian is upholding the British celebrity chef’s strong commitment to sustainability with a menu designed around sustainable fish sources available in the market throughout the year. ‘At Jamie’s Italian, we do not use endangered species, such as blue-fin tuna, Atlantic cod, shark fin, sole, halibut, plaice, hammour and swordfish,’ says a representative of the restaurant’s Festival City branch. ‘People do ask for the endangered, overfished hammour, and as a result we try to educate our customers and give enough information so they can support our ethos against using unsustainable fish.’
Considering the reputation and prevalence of both Jumeirah and the Jamie Oliver brand in the UAE and beyond, this is a hugely encouraging start, but the real victory in the fight to repopulate our depleted oceans will only come once all unsustainable fish is completely removed from every menu. Scott Price, executive chef at Table 9 and Glasshouse (the first Dubai restaurant to be certified by the Choose Wisely Campaign), says: ‘If it’s not on the menu, they can’t have it.’
‘Ultimately,’ concludes Hiltz, ‘encouraging and promoting sustainable fisheries will help secure fish stocks for the future, safeguard jobs and protect the marine environment, as well as protect an important part of UAE’s heritage and maintain the deep connection that the country’s inhabitants have always had with the sea and their environment.’
It’s important to remember (at least for gourmands) that the restaurateurs Time Out contacted about sustainable seafood went to great pains to assure us that sustainable alternatives can be equally, if not more so, enticing to the palate – you only need glance across these pages for proof. In this respect, the beneficiaries are our appetites, as well as the oceans. For more details about sustainable seafood and the depletion of the oceans, see www.choosewisely.ae.