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The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that approximately 80% of world fish stocks assessed are overfished or fished at full capacity. Some fish, which are still popular to eat in certain parts of the world, have become 'vulnerable' or 'critically endangered' as classified by the globally recognised assessments of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). On top of this, according to a Marine Stewardship Council survey conducted in 2014, 60% of consumers in the UK believe that all restaurants should offer sustainable seafood.
Hotels have a responsibility to act to;
Identifying what seafood is sustainable and what is not is extremely complex. It depends on multiple factors, such as the fishery, the time of year, condition of the seabed, the way a fish is caught etc. Situations change as fisheries improve and decline. Some resources that may help and keep you up to date include Fish Online, Pocket Good, Fish Guide, What MSC certified products are available in your country?, Fish Choice and WWF.
Those buying fish for retail sale in restaurants and hotels can make a real difference by choosing only seafood from responsibly managed sources. This helps encourage good practice to spread and acknowledges those already producing responsible seafood. There are some relatively simple steps hoteliers can take like speaking to suppliers about where fish comes from, checking that fish on menus is seasonal, using certified products only and creating a sustainable seafood policy.
Banning shark fin soup
Probably the most contentious fish dish on a menu is shark fin. Fins are usually cut whilst the shark is still alive. The shark can then die a slow death. Twenty species of sharks are listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and in a few years many species of shark could become extinct if action is not taken.
Many ITP members have taken shark fin soup completely off hotel menus. With an entrenched cultural identity in parts of Asia, banning shark fin soup was a pioneering step for Asia’s oldest hotel company, ITP member, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Group.
Mr Clement K.M. Kwok, Chief Executive Officer of Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, said:
By removing shark fin from our menus, we hope that our decision can contribute to preserving the marine ecosystem for the world’s future generations. As Asia’s oldest hotel company, we also hope that our decision will inspire other hospitality companies to do the same and that our industry will play a role in helping to preserve the bio-diversity of our oceans.
Natalie Chan, Director, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, explains how the company approached the issue:
Who initiated the discussion on shark fin and who ultimately made the decision? Before we introduced our Group Shark Fin Policy in November 2011, the management team had been monitoring the whole question of shark fin for some considerable time. The Group’s corporate responsibility and sustainability team also conducted research into this issue. Our CEO, with the support of the Group Management Board made the decision to take a definitive stand on removing shark fin from our menus across all operations in late 2011.
What reasons did you give to ban shark fin? Given the mounting scientific evidence on the drastic decline of shark populations, we believe that the time was right for us to pitch in our support in conserving an ever-decreasing asset of the world, to do our part in trying to put a stop to a potentially catastrophic environmental disaster. We believe in the importance of preserving the world’s marine eco-system for the world’s future generations. It is in line with the company’s vision for sustainable luxury and is the right thing to do.
How did you manage the message to customers and how did they react? We announced the policy to stop serving shark fin in November 2011, about a month prior to starting to enforce the policy in January 2012. Our F&B teams informed the regular patrons of our restaurants to ensure they were made aware of this decision from the company. However, the company would honour banquet bookings involving shark fin products made prior to the announcement of the policy on 21 November 2011, but taking place after 1 January 2012.
We are grateful to see that the decision was very well received around the world and was strongly supported by our guests. Some of our guests, after learning about our new policy, proactively reached out to us to switch their banquet bookings originally involving shark fin to other alternatives.
What were the main challenges? It was important to ensure that every staff member in the HSH family was made aware of and understood the decision by the company before we publicly announced the policy. Hence, we developed posters and briefing documents to help explain the science and the reasons behind the company’s decision. Through town hall meetings and daily operational briefings, all our general managers did a great job in ensuring their teams were briefed on this decision.
Has the ban affected your business negatively? This new policy, since its enforcement on 1st January 2012, has not had a negative impact on our food & beverage revenue. Our chefs have been developing many different quality options that more than make up for the absence of shark fin soup.
Have you seen any benefits? We were the first international hotel group to ban shark fin dishes. It is great to see that other companies have since followed our example. The sharks are certainly benefiting! We have developed a closer rapport with our guests and employees and this is a clear example of our Sustainable Luxury Vision in action.
Soneva Resorts, Residences and Spas take sustainability very seriously and ensuring that seafood is as sustainable as possible is an important part of that commitment.
Soneva have produced a simple checklist of food ‘no-nos’ to educate and inform staff. Arnfinn Oines, Soneva Social and Environmental Conscience writes; “The Soneva F&B No No's was developed by the group executive chef with input from the resort chefs and the sustainability team including myself and our marine biologist. A variety of research was done to develop it with the IUCN Red List and Marine Stewardship Council as important resources. It has been discussed at various group F&B conferences to get the buy-in and understanding of the list among the chefs.
Arnfinn goes on to explain…
One of the key principles of the food 'no-nos' is to encourage local, seasonal and environmentally friendly food products. Our chefs embrace this and provide our guests with fantastic culinary delights. There have certainly been challenges with the list with some chefs not liking or agreeing with it. We have however over the years worked on getting it integrated into our food menus as it goes very much in line with our core philosophy – chefs that don’t accept it therefore tend to move on.
"Training is carried out to ensure the team is aware of the list and understand its importance. We also make our suppliers aware of this including local fishermen in case there is any issue related to what is offered by the suppliers. Many of the suppliers are very understanding and are more than happy to comply with our standards. The list is reviewed on a regular basis. We also have a system to check that the chefs are complying with the list.
What we are focusing on now though are on what good alternatives we can use. With careful planning it is possible to offer high quality food that is sustainable. Generally the best food is the most sustainable anyway, it is just a matter of having chefs that have the right focus.”
Creating sustainable fish policies
In 2010 Marriott was the first large global hotel chain to launch a sustainable seafood programme in response to environmental concerns. Marriott International’s FutureFish program is designed to help the company’s hotels around the world source, cook and serve sustainable fish wherever seafood is offered, and provide effective associate education on this very important goal. Working with vendors and global/local fisheries, Marriott International’s hotels are sourcing an increasing amount of seafood that is caught in a sustainable manner.
Marriott is currently sourcing 65% of sustainable seafood and continues to look for new opportunities in this journey towards sustainability.
In addition, it is Marriott’s intent to support local and endangered fishery communities and the company is using third party groups such as Cleanfish, MSC, FishWatch, and others to assist in this effort. All hotels have received a guide featuring levels of sustainability of seafood to assist in property training and seafood selection.
Committing to long term goals
In August 2014 Hyatt Hotels announced the first phase of a long-term seafood sustainability strategy in partnership with WWF. Initially Hyatt Hotels are working towards a goal of responsibly sourcing more than 50% of their inventory by 2018. Hyatt will aim to purchase more than 15% of its seafood supply from fisheries or farms that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
“We are deeply focused on improving the health of our planet and our communities by implementing sustainable practices, and we hope that this effort to responsibly source more than 50% of seafood purchased by our hotels by 2018 will set a new standard for the hospitality industry,” said Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation.
Not only is fishing an important livelihood in many of the communities where Hyatt hotels operate, but many people around the world rely on fish as a primary source of protein, making it essential to help protect the world’s oceans.
Through engaging with WWF Hyatt has identified the following initiatives to improve the sustainability of Hyatt hotels’ seafood sourcing practices and standards:
For more guidance check out the Good Catch Guide, designed specifically for hotel and food service providers by the MCS, MSC and Sustain and available in online and manual formats. See also Green Hotelier's Know How Guide to Sustainable Food and other articles on supply chains in hotels.