Cod gets MSC certification, but is MSC fish on the menu the only sustainability credentials you want to be judged by?

The Riverbank News has been on hold for weeks hoping to pronounce the opening date for the new Café / Restaurant / Visitor centre / shop which is now complete. The delays have been caused mainly by things that you can’t see but which make this a very unique build. We shall continue to open the same hours as before but once we are settled these will be extended.

Back in July North Sea cod fisheries gained MSC certification and we very much look forward to producing some MSC approved cod products. This month we won Delicious Magazine’s best From the Sea category with our oak-smoked MSC-approved haddock (, but is MSC fish the only sustainability credentials you want to be judged on. We, as a company, are MSC approved in fact we’ve got all the T-shirts; Freedom Foods, Organic, Kosher, Sustainable Eel Standard, and ASC accreditations, and wherever we have the opportunity we prefer to use the appropriate sustainable product, but we must realise that these accreditations are usually fish type specific and as such a chain of custody box-ticking exercise. When it comes to sustainability picking approved fish should be viewed only as a gesture towards sustainability. There are many other ways in which we can be proactive on this subject.

More should be done to champion the UK’s inshore day boat fisheries. These tend to be generally much smaller boats using low impact methods of fishing such as hand lining, potting and even diving. The quality from such methods generally produces more varied fish species catches, and a much higher quality fish which is conversely reflected in the price. Promotion of such fisheries leads to a healthier coastal community which automatically provides a wider social benefit. The benefits of eating more fish are well documented but in order to satisfy worldwide demand we must accept that farmed fish plays a major part of that solution and we need to be constantly improving our methods and aquaculture systems.

We made a conscious decision some years ago that we would attempt to create a manufacturing unit with as close to zero carbon footprint as was possible. Water, probably the future’s most valuable resource, plays a huge part in our process and it is important that we manage this resource as efficiently as we possibly can. We started by drilling our own bore hole, as we use over 80 cubic metres of water a day it was essential that we got control of both volumes in and out of the site. After numerous applications and setbacks we eventually gained planning permission for a series of lagoons to treat all our sewage and waste water. The first lagoon is now in commission and is the only single cell system of its kind in the U.K. It was designed to be future-proof and currently processes all our foul and waste water from the factory, shop, restaurant, staff facilities and nine surrounding residences. Wind powered this runs at a cost of 75p a day. It has already drawn attention from Welsh Water and the Environment Agency who have both commended it as a perfect rural water treatment solution and expressed interest in using it as a showcase model.

In our effort to be carbon free once the new build is open we shall no longer require gas as a power source. Everyone these days has the opportunity to demand from their supplier a green energy option and the price differentials are closing fast. If you can meet the up-front costs the most cost effective is installing your own solar energy system. We have been able to install a solar thermal and photovoltaic solar panel system which will provide almost all our heat and electric power for our shop and staff facilities’ needs. Owning our surrounding land has also meant that we are in the fortunate position of having the ability to install a ground source heat pump system which will provide all our hot water and heating needs for shop, restaurant and staff facilities. We have also just received approval for the biomass boiler which will be fuelled by waste wood from two local saw mills plus our own and customers’ supply of broken pallets. This in turn will heat a sunken 1,200 metre water pipe loop round the site and have the capacity to feed hot water, not only to the new build and staff welfare area but also the existing factory and surrounding residential properties. This acts as further backup helping to future-proof the energy needs of the site.

Waste and our attitude to waste is constantly changing and evolving. It’s taken many years but we now have systems in place where every piece of fish, from heads and bones down to fish scales, are sold for reprocessing in some way. Polystyrene boxes are the salmon industry’s product of shame, and still it is the preferred packaging of choice. We have experimented with some salmon suppliers with salmon deliveries in large bins of iced sea water and this probably is the vision for the future but until it’s use is more widespread and accepted polystyrene at the moment is here to stay. We therefore collect every bead of polystyrene delivered, wash crush and compact it in order that it can be sold and recycled. All broken and damaged pallets will be used with waste wood from two local saw mills to fuel our biomass boiler, which in turn will provide backup for any shortfall we have in running our hot water and heating systems.

With two local heritage fisheries on our doorstep (wild salmon and eel) we feel a responsibility to help and promote these ancient fisheries, preserving their future so future generations may enjoy this sustainable resource. Our ‘Eels in Schools’ project which we started 6 years ago has connected us to local schools, educating children about the history and value of their local water, where their food comes from and the importance of keeping this valuable resource viable and sustainable for the future. We shall be doing our annual release at Llangorse this week celebrating the end of this year’s project where we will restock 25,000 plus eels with pupils from The Downs Malvern school.

The small number of netsmen and basket fishermen of the local wild salmon fishery did not fish this year as the Environment Agency issued such low quotas for the fishery that the fishermen could not cover the cost of their licence. Experts concede that this healthy river could easily support a small commercial fishery that was properly managed and appropriately quoted. It would be a great shame if this heritage fishery with all its riverbank knowledge, history and source of data and information was allowed to die.

If any confirmation was needed that the future looks uncertain post Brexit, and consolidation and a globalisation of our economy was something that we will have to get accustomed to, evidence presented itself with the news that Scottish smokehouse and Royal Warrant holders John Ross Jr (Aberdeen) Ltd and subsidiary Coln Valley Smokery Ltd had been swallowed up by Estonian fish processors AS PRFoods, another British independent bites the dust. As sterling weakens foreign buyers are bound to look for any acquisition that can give them a foothold in our market so more such deals will probably follow.