Getting sustainable in fish
Frequented by the Kaiser Chiefs, famous within the county, and run by a passionate fish and chip aficionado, Tasting Britain were invited to the relaunch of Harbour Lights in Falmouth, Cornwall. Aside from making fish and chips that Ricky Wilson writes home about, the Harbour Lights is the only MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) approved restaurant and takeaway in Cornwall. An advocate of committing to sustainable sourcing, Pete is on the steering committee of the county’s Sustainable Fish Project with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
Full of anecdotes including Prince Charles, obtaining Michael Fish’s permission to use his mugshot on the newly refurbished tables, we talked fish supplies and sustainability with Pete Fraser, the man who helped change the face of the fishing industry.
Name: Pete Fraser
Fun Fact: Pete has a range of fish ties, one of which he is sporting above
How long have you been in the fish and chip business?
I’ve owned Harbour Lights for fifteen years now. Originally I was in a partnership but in 2005, I bought my partner out and could really drive the Harbour Lights in direction I wanted. Wife Sue & I have got 4 kids, the future of mother Earth was very important to us and I just suddenly realised that my industry was potentially really damaging the sea. No one seemed to be asking vital questions on the health of fish stocks: I mean we could have been frying the last haddock in the sea and nobody would know. So I realised that a lot of questions needed to be asked.
So you wanted to know about how to source the most sustainable fish?
Yes. In 2005 it was very hard to find people in my industry that could answer my questions. Probably my greatest allies were the Marine Conservation Society. We loved their work. Their www.fishonline.org resource was an amazing source of fishy knowledge. In gratitude for 5 years we helped them raise funds by donating back to them 5p for every hot drink sold in our restaurant. Most years 20,000 cups of tea & coffee equated to over £1000 for the MCS.
Wow, so you were the first one?
I really don’t know about that, a few I am sure were doing some great work but very little was reported, so I never found them. It was a bit depressing that so few seemed to be considering marine conservation but as a businessman it was also quite exciting knowing that we near the front of the pack going forward.
People tend to really like cod and chips. Did you feel any resistance to opting for different fish?
Yes certainly Southerners like their Cod & Chips. Up north and in Scotland, haddock is the fish of choice. All of our cod is supplied from the most sustainable fisheries we can find. It is Marine Stewardship Council certified and comes Barents and Norwegian Seas. To us a very simple way to protect the future of our seas is for us Brits to be a bit more daring and not just eat the Big 5 fish: cod, haddock, salmon, prawns & tuna. So we decided to be a bit controversial and took cod, our biggest seller, off our menu for a week. Initially we got some strange looks from our regulars but on the whole the week was a great success.
What did this have to do with Prince Charles?
Prince Charles heads up and funds a large environmental study group called the International Sustainability Unit www.pcfisu.org . I think his organisation got wind of us and the invite came in to me and some colleagues to meet up and brief HRH on how the Fish & Chip industry was tackling issues of sustainability. The meeting lasted 90 minutes and he really was genuinely very interested in what we had to say. The Fish & Chip industry with its over 10,000 shops in the UK is a major provider of fish to the nation.
How do you find out which fish is sustainable?
I’m really excited about a new initiative in Cornwall that is launching in April. The MCS does a great job on the national / international picture of fish sustainability but it sadly lacks the resources to accumulate all the knowledge that exists on the health of more local fisheries. Here in Cornwall we are blessed with such a wide variety of fish landed – 66 different species. I associated the Cornwall Wildlife Trust with just terrestrial habitats but I was wrong there, they are really interested in the sea around our coasts as well. I have really enjoyed being on the steering committee of the CWT’s Cornwall Good Seafood Guide. For restaurateurs, fish & chip shop owners and the general public it will be really easy to make some good quality decisions on what Cornish fish to serve & eat. It’s a conservation project, as opposed to an industry led one, which gives it credibility
So this will grade the fish?
Yes, it will follow the methodology of the MCS’s grading of fisheries from 1 to 5. Where 1 is the best to eat and 5 is a fish to avoid. There is a lot of science behind it. It is not just how plentiful the stocks are, it also takes into account method of capture, the management systems of the fishery and the vulnerability of the species. [i.e some fish produce thousands of eggs; others just a few.]
What does a day in your life look like?
Well, it’s all changing. I mean the shop sort if runs itself now; I’m almost surplus to requirements. Very sad but I guess it makes for a stronger business, one that doesn’t rely on me all the time. I believe in empowering the young people here to make the decisions, so I’m busy working on this campaign and trying to spread the word.
How much have your kids been involved? Do they work here?
My eldest, Logan he’s 22, has been here since school. He’s brilliant with our customers; he loves the hospitality industry. As his employer, I’d love him to stay here (forever). He’s brilliant. But as his Dad, I want him to go off and see the world! My other two boys have worked here, Kyle has a soccer scholarship an American University, and Ronan has set his heart on being a snowboard instructor.. My daughter Brooke, who is 15 should be starting this summer. Like everyone she’ll be starting on washing dishes.
Cornwall’s a great place for doing that; learning about the industry from the bottom up.
I think what I’m most proud of here is that – you see many of our customers are older – and I just keep getting the feedback that our young team are so polite and welcoming.
What is your proudest moment?
Acknowledging that as much as I can make this a nice place to work, it is a transitional job for most young people. It’s that feeling of having helped people move one. I just love seeing people flourish, and leave here as a more rounded individual. You can win all of the awards in the world, but nothing means as much as that to me.
Where do you find your staff?
People seem to find us. We have a Jobfair at the beginning of every season. Now I sit back and leave it to my gang. I have told them and they know the type of person that will best fit in here. They always find some real gems, and then next year the gems will find more gems.
What’s your culinary philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
Please can I have two?
We’re on a continuous journey from Good to Great. Training is simple – we do whatever we guarantee that everyone leaves with a big smile.
You’ve just refurbished the shop, which looks lovely. What’s next?
A pint of Spingo down my local the Blue Anchor in Helston but after that we really fancy a big project and are thinking on how to set up an anaerobic digester to deal with the waste from all of the eateries here in Falmouth. Trip Advisor says there are 170 of us!