Sole of Discretion

We’ve been scouring the South West for truly sustainable fish. Our journey has led us to discover Sole of Discretion, a Plymouth based Community Interest Company. Founder, Caroline Bennett’s mission is one that really resonates with us. Here, she explains her vision for better, more sustainable fish.

 

At Sole of Discretion, we are 100% committed to ethical, quality fish, and hence buy predominantly from static gill or trammel netters and hand liners fishing mostly out of Plymouth, supplementing our supply from other carefully-sourced, low-impact fisheries. We never buy from industrial trawlers or from boats over 10 metres, and we ensure our fishers are paid fairly for every catch.

It is nigh impossible for most people to be able to identify the difference between a fish caught with low impact to the marine eco-system and one which has caused considerable impact. Our mission is to make that easier.

I’d been working on marine issues for two decades, and being a pragmatist, it troubled me that there was no bridge between the well intentioned and highly knowledgeable environmental NGO community and people that wanted to do the right thing.
Plenty of my friends would ask me what fish to eat and where to buy it, and there really were no easy answers. The only thing I could tell them was to look out for MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) species in the absence of any other clear guidelines, which was frustrating, as I knew there were far better fisheries out there.

The pragmatist got together with the fantasist in me. Sole of Discretion was born out of a desire to make it easier for the conscientious shopper to eat fish without that nagging doubt they might be contributing to a depleted and damaged marine ecosystem.

The marine world is complex and it’s tricky knowing where to start. It’s fairly common knowledge that, to limit damage on the seas, hand-line caught fish are some of the best. In a perfect world, perhaps we would return to anglers catching all of our fish with a rod and line, but hand-line caught fish will satisfy only a fraction of demand, so it becomes elitist and does nothing to highlight the difference between the most damaging fisheries and many of the better small-scale ones.

At the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t get much worse than dynamite (outlawed and yet still practised in some parts of the world), but even legal industrial-scale fishing is hugely damaging. Modern food systems are wasteful and inefficient – they require large volumes of the same species, of the same size, in order to be processed mechanically. This in turn requires industrial vessels to target certain species, of a certain size, and in large volume – facilitating this wasteful and inefficient means of fishing. By contrast, small-scale fishers tend to catch a wider range of species in lower volumes and of varying sizes, making their fish inappropriate for the today’s industrial scale food processing systems.

The vast majority of fishing lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but knowing where the fish you’re buying sits on this spectrum is practically impossible. Once it hits the shelves, small-scale caught fish is not differentiated from those caught on industrial boats, and all traceability is lost. In spite of the fact that more and more people are looking for local, ethical produce, consumers are not able to actively choose to buy fish from small-scale fishers. Sole of Discretion’s aim is to help you navigate your way through.

Small-scale fishers around the globe face similar problems – access to the fishing areas or to quota, limited days at sea due to weather or seasonality and limited or no access to ice or processing facilities. And then there’s the inability to command control over prices and limited or no presence at policy level. Our aim is to address these issues, and so give low-impact, local fishing a chance to thrive. We pay our fishers fairly for every catch, give them access to ice and processing facilities and advocate for their way of making a living. Then we work hard to create a market for their unique products.

From the point of view of our customers, Sole of Discretion are unique in the UK in that we offer on each and every pack full traceablity back to boat, telling our customers how their fish was caught. We often blast freeze on day of catch to ensure year-round supply and lock in freshness that’s often lost in industrial supply chains. We are also the only fishmonger with a Soil Association-approved manifesto – testament to our radical but necessary approach to preserving the future of our seas.

 

Visit Sole of Discretion’s supplier page to hear Caroline talk about their mission.