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Fishy Business

Fish – it’s a menu workhorse but fishy business over labelling could not only land you in hot water, it could also leave you pale around the gills with a legal battle on your hands. Take Stock investigates.

It’s said what happens in America today happens in the UK tomorrow but what, you may ask yourself, does that have to do with the price of fish? The answer is, quite a lot actually.

Food allergy lawyers in the US are targeting a public increasingly aware that the fish and seafood they order is not necessarily what they eat. According to a study by the not-for-profit ocean conservation group Oceana, 74% of American sushi bars and 38% of restaurants are serving mislabelled fish – that’s fish billed as one thing on the menu that turns out to be another species altogether when examined in the laboratory.

Here in the UK, scientific testing by Salford University has revealed that 7% of the cod and haddock served as such in British restaurants is really another cheaper species such as pollock or Vietnamese pangasius.

These substitutes are used to cut costs but with fish and seafood already two of the eight most common food allergens (the others are milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts and nuts in general), serving them is not only cheating the public, it is also potentially putting its health at risk. This is because some people can be allergic to some fish species but not all. If a customer has an allergic reaction as a result of mislabelling they can take legal action against you – and find a UK food safety lawyer ready to take their case.  It would seem that the buck could well stop with you, even if you were as ignorant as your customer over the true origin of your fillets.

According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), the Salford University findings are to be welcomed as a wake-up call for the UK catering industry. Says the SRA’s managing director Mark Linehan: “As the horse meat scandal has shown us, diners will vote with their wallets if businesses don’t take responsibility for their supply chain. Consumers want transparency and restaurants are duty bound to provide it.

“Drawing up a sourcing policy, being rigorous with suppliers and taking steps to improve staff knowledge of fish will put restaurateurs in the best position to serve customers what they say they are serving them.”

SRA members adhere to a fish specific supplier agreement that means they do not serve fish from illegal, unreported or unregulated sources and can provide proof of traceability including where and when the fish on their menu was caught.

In the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby, award-winning Fusco’s of Whitby, which owns and operates three fish and chip shops in the resort, has gone a step further by seeking certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC, a global organisation, works to develop standards for sustainable fishing to protect the world’s fish stocks and also, for seafood traceability.

Fish and seafood suppliers from fish and chip shops and restaurants, which serve the public directly, through to food service wholesalers such as Bristol-based fresh and frozen fish and seafood supplier Charles Saunders Food Service, along with trawler companies, can undergo an audit leading to certification. Once certified, the business can display the MSC’s logo, which reassures the public that all the fish and seafood it sells can be traced back to a sustainable fishery.

Explains Stuart Fusco, a former young fish frier of the year award winner: “We go right back to source to check that our fish is what we say it is. We know the boats that catch our fish – the Hrafn in Iceland for our cod and the Gier in Norway for our haddock. It’s frozen on the boat within hours of being caught so comes to us fresher than any ‘fresh fish’ we could buy.

“It makes me angry that some places are sourcing substandard species and selling them as cod and haddock. Ultimately, it’s not giving consumers the honesty they deserve and that brings the whole industry’s reputation down.’

For further information on the SRA, visit and on the MSC,

Why not take a look at Take Stock’s tips for serving fish.

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