Author: Ali Wunderman
The news is out: if people don’t drastically change their relationship with the natural world, the human species could face extinction in as little as thirty years. If that seems dramatic, it’s because it is. In the scheme of the universe, three decades is no time at all, so the time to start making changes is now.
That’s why this year on June 8th for World Oceans Day, over 200 chefs from Relais & Châteaux — a collection of gourmet restaurants and boutique hotels — are participating in an initiative showing a unified message of the importance of sustainable travel across the globe. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the United Nations dedicating a day to celebrating marine life and biodiversity, and though this important initiative is evergreen, World Oceans Day gives a timely call-to-action to encourage travelers to change their seafood consumption habits to help preserve our oceans.
With the largest collection of Michelin starred chefs in the world, chefs that are part of this collection have a lot of influence, which they are using to raise awareness for sustainable fishing and the pivotal role it plays in how we consume seafood. “Overfishing can lead to decimation of the resources that serve as an inducement to travel in the first place,” explains Scott Kitson, owner of the Rosedon Hotel in Bermuda. “As an island-based hotel and restaurant, we have witnessed the effects that overfishing of our reefs has had on the health of the entire ecosystem.”
There’s been a lot of focus on ditching plastic straws, which begets an essential conversation about the way we consume single-use plastics. But, only 0.03% of ocean plastic comes from straws, a fraction of the whopping 46% that comes from fishing nets. Plus, roughly 20% of all creatures caught by commercial fisheries is by-catch, which includes turtles, seals, dolphins, and sharks. Overfishing creates significant, negative impacts everywhere it occurs.
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The takeaway from these statistics is that the most effective way to lessen individual impact on the sea is to quit eating fish and seafood entirely, but for many people, that isn’t a realistic step to take. Of course, that doesn’t mean do nothing. “By making conscious choices about the seafood you consume, you can impact the health of our oceans,” says Chef Carmen Ingham of The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn, a seaside hotel in British Columbia.
One of those conscious choices is selecting accommodations and restaurants that have taken it upon themselves to preserve natural resources, and to follow their lead. “The many sustainable practices we have at the Inn include conserving the rainforest around the Inn when it was built, supporting local foragers and fishers by showcasing their products on our menu,” and ditching single-use plastics.
Another step many Relais & Châteaux chefs are taking is to serve lesser-known fish on their menus, rather than adding pressure to fish populations already under stress due to their popularity. “At Dos Brisas, we have always felt that it is important to utilize species native to our location,” says Executive Chef Zachary Ladwig of the Inn at Dos Brisas in Texas. “The Gulf of Mexico is home to a wide range of fish, many underutilized. We prefer to showcase these fish for their own versatility and quality.” With enough consumers exploring alternate fish species to eat, the natural stocks of the more well-known species could have the space to replenish themselves.
With the world on the brink, sacrifice is inevitably required. The Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in British Columbia is phasing out their salmon fishing program in an effort to reduce its impact and raise awareness about the diminishing wild salmon populations in Clayoquot Sound. “We as consumers need to understand that no matter how vast the ocean is, the seafood we love is finite,” Chef Ladwig argues. “If we want to continue to eat these items we need to be better at practicing moderation. We need to demand that our markets only support fisherman that practice sustainable fishing methods.”
Making that kind of decision can be hard on a business, which is why having as much data as possible is essential. That’s why the Sonora Resort, also in BC, runs a volunteer program wherein Phillips River Chinook salmon are caught using small hand nets and brought back to Sonora Island to grow until they’re old enough for release. Using coded wire tags, salmon migration patterns can be monitored so the Department of Fisheries (DFO) can better strategize their management plans.
Reversing the effects of climate change and overfishing will be hard, but not impossible, and it starts with following the leadership on display by the chefs of Relais & Châteaux, especially if giving up fish entirely isn’t an option. There’s no better way to celebrate World Oceans Day than to take stock of our individual impact on the planet and commit to making more sustainable seafood choices.
Ali Wunderman is a travel writer focusing on what’s good to eat and drink around the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.