The survey also revealed that only 6 per cent had seen a seafood eco-label on menus while eating out.
According to the MSC the gap between supply and demand has a lot to do with market maturity.
“We’ve seen great success in the use of the eco-label in retailers, partly because of consumer demand but also because of the scrutiny by NGOs and other organisations, which really pushed the sustainability agenda. In restaurants it has been pushed, but not to the same degree,” George Clark, the council’s UK commercial manager, told BigHospitality.
Third party audit
Another reason is that even if a restaurant buys MSC-certified seafood, it needs its own MSC certification to display the label.
“Restaurants do talk about sustainability a lot, but where ecolabels are concerned there aren’t that many of them that a restaurant can actually use and put on the menu. The MSC’s is fairly unique in that the restaurant has to go through a traceability certification process in order to use it,” he added.
To get the certification, restaurants must demonstrate that they buy fish from an MSC-certified supplier, but also that they have a process in place to ensure the certification upon receipt of the products. They must also ensure the certified product is clearly identified throughout their business, particularly it can be mixed up with non-certified seafood.
The MSC provides free advice and information, but restaurants must pay for a third party audit, which costs around £350 for a single unit.
Consumer demand v. industry responsibility
As the survey suggests, diners are more and more aware of sustainability issues, even though it doesn’t always translate into direct questions when inside the restaurant. In this BigHospitality article ahead of World Oceans Day, restaurateur Sam Harrison said few people asked about sustainable seafood, but that it was restaurants’ responsibility to push sustainable initiatives.
“Restaurateurs and chefs do have a responsibility to drive the change that we’re trying to facilitate,” agreed Clark.
“A lot of the time these issues arise in consumers, and they possibly fade away because of an assumption that the issue’s been solved. Consumers may trust the restaurant has taken account of things and that could be why those questions aren’t asked, but getting certified gives your consumers that extra confidence in terms of traceability and sustainability.”
He added that the industry had made “marked improvements” recently, particularly fish and chips shops. There are now around 40 certified fish and chips venues in the UK.
“They see the label on products that get delivered into the store, know that their customers are aware of sustainability issues and realise that it’s now a logical decision for them to get our certification in order to be able to display it on their menus.
“There aren’t a vast amount of restaurants that have the eco-label, but there are some really great ones blazing the trail, like Wahaca, or Le Manoir aux Quat’s Saisons. I expect as the market matures further, even more of them will use it,” Clark concluded.
Check out more of the survey's highlights in this infographic.