Environmental concerns are having a noticeable albeit minor impact on the demand for seafood, discovers Jane Ram.
Over the past 50 years, consumption of fish and seafood has risen steadily in most parts of the world, nowhere more so than in Asia where China will soon outstrip most other consumers. The country’s demand for seafood has risen from 11.5 Kg per capita in 2004 to reach a projected 35.9 Kg per capita in 2020, according to a recent Food & Agriculture Organisation forecast. Farmed freshwater seafood is still the market leader, although China’s fast-growing wealthy class are increasingly demanding premium imported seafood.
Food safety scandals have combined with effective campaigns to encourage the general consumption of lower fat protein options to boost Chinese consumption of fish (along with lean meats). At the same time, the much-publicised crackdown on conspicuous consumption has created a general anti-indulgence climate that has also slowed growth in market demand for expensive fresh fish.
China is not the only country where fish is the preferred protein source: this has traditionally been the pattern throughout the region according to Euromonitor International. Japan was traditionally a major consumer of fish and seafood of all types, but rising prices and concerns about contamination after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, have seen a sharp drop in demand.
Perhaps surprisingly, the recent popularity of keto or paleo diets seems to have added little impact to the growing interest in seafood says Yuki Matsuhisa – known to the world simply as “Nobu”. Few people can comment more authoritatively on international trends as the popularity of his innovative new-style Peruvian-influenced Japanese cuisine has resulted in a total of 40 NOBU restaurants and 9 Matsuhisa restaurants, and 8 Nobu Hotels in 48 different cities around the world, spanning five continents.
The acclaimed and highly influential chef proprietor of Nobu and Matsuhisa restaurants all over the globe is skeptical about the influence of new diets on fish consumption.
“I’m not sure more people switch to keto or paleo but Japanese cuisine is becoming very popular around the world,” says Nobu. “A traditional Japanese meal is well balanced – featuring more fish than red meat, and I know many people are eating more seafood instead of meat these days. At the same time the fish markets sell more farmed fish now. They produce high quality farmed seafood while lessening their impact on the environment. I think farming technology is getting better every year.”
Sustainability might be a hot topic in conversation, but it is not an issue when it comes to dining out, says Nobu. “Our restaurant menu is almost all seafood; and customers seldom ask what is the source of the ingredients, perhaps because they know we only use top quality ingredients.”
Tony Kok, F&B director at The Mira Hong Kong, says new dietary trends and environmental concerns are having a noticeable albeit minor impact on the demand for seafood, along with environmental concerns when it comes to guest selection from the hotel’s justly popular seafood-heavy buffet (including freshly shucked oysters and steamed live Boston lobsters served on ice every night). “While the consumers in Hong Kong are becoming more aware of the finite resources our planet has to offer, the appetite for seafood has never been greater and certainly particular lifestyle choices including specific protein and healthy fat-dense diets contribute to that,” he says.
“Overall, at the Mira we see an ever-increasing demand in seafood-centric menus and thematic buffets. This May and June our seasonal dinner buffet at Yamm will feature Alaskan seafood. Once a month Yamm features a premium Hokkaido-theme buffet dinner, which is all about Japanese seafood including freshly flown-in sashimi.”
Diners at the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai are mainly local residents who look for quality and freshness as well as rare seasonal produce, says John Burger, Area General Manager of Hilton Greater Shenzhen Area. “They like king crab and a wide variety and choice of fresh oysters from different countries. Buffet favourites include all shell fish as well as salmon and whole tuna.
“In our Chinese Restaurant Geoduck, Red & Tiger Grouper, Australian Lobster and Prawns are popular. We don’t see too much interest and impact from the latest diets, but consumers are becoming a lot more conscious about sustainable seafood. However, rare seafoods are always in demand and push the boundaries on the sustainable seafood side so we try and avoid this as much as possible. Seasonal products are more sought after nowadays.
“We are currently driving awareness on sustainable seafood with lots of certification requirements as well as training for all F&B and procurement department staff. Some pilot hotels like Hilton Singapore already have the Seafood sustainability Certification in place and this is now being pushed in China. Our hotel is trying to achieve certification and a WebEx in early April was intended to show our F&B management how to roll this out.”
Countries with a flourishing seafood industry are adding another facet to their best assets. Pioneering luxury tour company Up Norway is promoting international tours to places like Lovund Island where the entire community is centred around salmon farming. And adventurous anglers with deep pockets can sign up for bespoke fishing trips along some of the country’s pristine rivers.