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A lesson in sustainable fishing

Going back to school can help chippies not only drum home the importance of choosing fish that has been sustainably sourced but also forge links with a future generation of customers

Whether due to the popularity of TV shows investigating the state of our oceans or headlines about overfishing, more people than ever are taking an interest in sustainable fishing.

Research agency GlobeScan has identified plastic pollution and overfishing as two of the most concerning ocean issues, and recent research commissioned by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has found that people are increasingly concerned about sustainability, with 83% of seafood diners agreeing that we need to protect seafood for future generations. What’s more, it also found that more than three-quarters of diners want sustainability claims to be independently verified.

Savvy chippy owners are taking note. Sustainable sourcing amongst fish and chip shops has risen from 51 MSC-certified outlets in 2016 to 120 today – a 135% increase. Being certified helps business, too. In the 2019 Fish and Chip Shop Awards, nine out of the top ten takeaways shortlisted in the UK are MSC certified.

Now, a handful of pioneering MSC-certified fish and chip shops have found that there’s no better way to get families interested in sustainable fish than by educating the younger generation. Owners and staff have been visiting local schools to get children excited about the world in our oceans and help them discover where their fish and chips come from. 

Educating the next generation

For father and son team David and Nick Miller of Millers Fish and Chips in Haxby, York, the idea to visit schools stemmed from a desire to teach younger children about sustainability in the fishing industry.  Son Nick says: “It’s important that future generations grow up knowing the importance of protecting our oceans and the steps they can take to make a difference, so getting involved with local schools and interacting with the kids is an amazing way of doing this. They are the future, after all!”

David and Nick secured a meeting with a head teacher at nearby Lynton-on-Ouse Primary School, and with the school about to embark on a project about Oceans and Seas, it was a perfect match. Millers used the MSC’s Fish and Kids resources to structure their presentation, and, covering topics from ocean plastics to the fisherman’s role from sea to plate, they were able to show children the link between the fish on their dinner plates and the issues they had learned of while watching BBC’s Blue Planet II.

“The feedback was great,” says Nick. “The pupils continued to learn about marine life and the environment after we’d done the session, so our work essentially became a part of their wider learning. A lot of the parents are customers at the shop and have personally thanked us. Some of them have even told us about their kids coming home from school and explaining why sustainable fish is important!”

Inviting pupils in

Louise Sproat from Fylde Fish and Chips in Southport and Ormskirk, agrees: “It all starts with education, and what better way than to get schools involved?” But instead of visiting a school, in October 2018 the MSC-certified chippy welcomed a year six class into the shop to tie in with the school’s Harvest Festival week.

Alongside an introduction about the types of fish students had tried, the Fylde team showed a video and pupils discussed the environment and sustainable fishing. With plastic in oceans being a hot topic, the team had the opportunity to showcase how they are making sustainable choices like using biodegradable boxes and paper straws. The children were even able to make their own fish cake which was fried up for them to eat. The hands-on activity meant everyone was happy – best of all, the chippy gained some new fans after a few youngsters who said they didn’t like to eat fish ended up cleaning their plates!

A livelihood made sustainable

Valerie Johnson of Frankies Fish and Chips believes that educating children about MSC and protecting the oceans runs deeper than making sustainable choices: it’s about ensuring sustaining livelihoods, too. “In Shetland the fishing industry is still the biggest employer across the Islands, therefore most children know someone who works on a fishing boat, at a processor or at the fish market,” says Valerie.

Part of the visits (Frankies meets a handful of schools every year) involves bringing a box of fresh fish for the children to touch. For many youngsters, this is their first hands-on experience with whole fish rather than filleted or covered in batter, and for some, it marks the realisation that the fish and the mussels they eat come from the sea just beyond the window.

The highlight of the visits, says Valerie, comes from watching the children make the connection between the fish in the ocean, fish on their plate, and possible career paths. “A lot of them when they’re leaving say ‘I want to work in a fish and chip shop now’ - or on a mussel farm, which they probably never realised was on the doorstep before.”

And the most important thing? That our fish are caught sustainably and their habitats are preserved for the sake of future generations as well as the people whose livelihoods depend on them today.

5 steps to planning an educational event of your own

If you've been inspired to host your own educational session, here are a few pointers to ensure it goes swimmingly:

1. Become MSC certified. It’s easy, and the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) offers the easiest and most affordable route to certification. Visit the website by clicking here for more information.

2. Get in touch with the head teacher or school to discuss a potential visit. You might consider tying the visit in with World Environment Day (5 June), World Oceans Day (8 June) or Seafood Week (October), and the head teacher will likely have ideas too.

3. Visit the free Fish and Kids resources on the MSC website for inspiration. There are plenty of themed assembly plans, videos, activity sheets and fishery case studies which you can adapt to create the perfect school talk.

4. A few practical preparations can help the visit go smoothly if students are visiting your shop. Aim for a morning visit, while kids are enthused. Make sure you check in with the school about allergies, and ask about photo permissions if you’re planning to take pictures.

5. Follow up. It’s a great way to get feedback and consider how you might be able to link up with the school again. Some schools might be interested in a subsequent visit, others may be interested in a visit to your shop to experience life as an MSC-certified fish and chip shop owner.

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