Careful what you fish for – Tonks warns of cod change
Celebrity restaurateur Mitch Tonks has urged fish and chip shops in the Westcountry to join him in putting sustainable cod and haddock on their menus.
Mr Tonks used a fish and chip lunch at his RockFish restaurant in Dartmouth to call on the region's eateries to serve cod and haddock from fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
He serves up more than eight tonnes of cod and haddock each year at RockFish, all fished off the Norwegian coast, from a fishery which has been certified by the MSC as environmentally sound.
The harbourside restaurant displays the distinctive blue MSC logo on its menu and in the window since receiving the certification in January.
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"Because we are using such volumes of cod and haddock, the local fishery doesn't have the capability to supply that," said Mr Tonks.
"Because we were buying outside the area we wanted to know we are tapping into sustainable sources. I hope it will be an example for other businesses to say 'We should be doing that'."
Mr Tonks, whose menu this week also featured Brixham-landed plaice and mackerel, said he trusted the practices of local fishermen who landed the many other species he serves at RockFish and his Dartmouth restaurant, The Seahorse.
When it came to bulk-buying cod and haddock for the fish and chip trade, he said the MSC logo was the best guarantee that their fishing practices were not depleting fish stocks.
He also serves queen scallops, from the Isle of Man MSC fishery, on the menu, alongside scallops landed at Brixham by small local boats.
"When you are buying cod and haddock, which is the restaurant's biggest consumption, you have got to be sure you are buying right," he said.
But he said he was "totally and utterly not in favour" of dissuading people from buying cod and haddock, in favour of other species, as advocated by fellow Westcountry celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his campaigning Channel 4 TV programme.
"I think what it has done is create more and more confusion," he said. "We are a cod-loving nation. You can't replace eating cod with gurnard and bass because there isn't enough of it.
"Hugh's Fish Fight has done a great job of highlighting many of the negative issues in the fishing industry, but going on TV saying 'don't eat cod' is not a helpful way to get people to understand what they should be eating. We have got to be giving a more balanced view of the issues. "
Mr Tonks, who was a fishmonger before becoming a chef, restaurateur and food writer, is a paid advocate for the sustainable Norwegian cod fishery, alongside his championing of the South West coastline as the "best fishing coast in the world".
While cod landed at Brixham was delicious, he said it was too large to be served fried in batter, and there simply wasn't enough to supply the region's fish and chip shops.
"We are a consumer of cod through and through and there isn't any point trying to change that," he said. "It is the fish of our choice."
Helen Tiwari, MSC commercial manager, said it was "fantastic" that Mr Tonks was serving MSC-certified cod and haddock, because his high profile would encourage other chippies to follow suit.