Committed to raising awareness of ocean protection, this Marine Stewardship Council Chef Ambassador aims to increase public understanding of certified sustainable seafood.
Photo Courtesy of Charlotte Langley
“Helping consumers navigate and access information to make sustainable food choices is my responsibility.”
Hailing from Canada’s famed coastal piscine oasis of Prince Edward Island, Chef Charlotte Langley infuses her passion for seafood and warm culinary experiences into the vision of Scout, a sustainability-driven seafood company she co-founded in 2014]. With 15 years of celebrated expertise in the seafood culinary scene, Charlotte has been a chef at Canada’s most recognized restaurants including Whalesbone and C Restaurant. Today, through Scout and her mission with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), she’s working to improve the sustainability and transparency of the seafood industry while raising awareness of marine conservation.
Seafood is the primary protein source for more than half the planet. Our oceans and waterways are the most regenerative ecosystems on earth, but unfortunately, there is no effective global regulation or enforcement of illegal fishing and environmental degradation. Governments, the seafood industry, and consumers all have a role to play in protecting this precious ecosystem and food source.
This interview is a first approach to the vast subject of responsible fishing, which we intend to explore further. Charlotte's expertise, talent, and humility have allowed us to build the basis for an enlightened reflection on a subject of crucial importance, yet unfortunately little known or understood by the consumer market.
Thank you and welcome Charlotte to Chefs for Impact!
By Charlotte Langley as told to Chefs for Impact
You are an ambassador for sustainable fishing. How did sustainability first become important to you?
“From the day I started cooking 15 years ago, I’ve always been interested in meeting with the fisherman and the farmers to better understand the origins of the ingredients I am working with. I quickly realized that our decisions have a tremendous impact on the planet, particularly the ocean. I also understood that a lot of people, including chefs sometimes, don’t know where to go to buy sustainable fish and are unsure of what it means exactly. So, I decided I wanted to help consumers to understand the source of seafood, the ecosystems around them and what’s happening in the environment. It’s my duty to help educate and it’s a responsibility I take seriously.”
What does sustainable fishing mean to you?
“It means a lot of things. First and foremost, it’s about respecting the seasonality of seafood. Eating fish in season also helps to avoid overfishing and overexploitation of marine species. The fish must be caught at maturity; it must be given time to populate and grow. Then, in the same way as farming, sustainable fishing is about building relationships with those sourcing the seafood. Talking to your fisherman and understanding where the fish comes from, how it was caught, who caught it, and who touches it before it comes to you is very important.”
Responsible fishing is a fascinating subject, yet quite difficult to decipher for the consumer. Labels intend to provide information and guide consumers in their food choices, but are they really reliable in informing consumers of which options to choose?
“It’s easy to mislead on a label, you can put whatever you want on a box from the type of species to the ingredients you added. Unfortunately, mislabeling and misunderstanding are true. There is piracy within the world of fishing where tons of species are sold as different ones and the traceability of them is close to zero. Traceability and labelling represent a huge task and not everybody wants to pay for it. Many people want to make money, so they fish anyway without respecting the standards. I recommend following the global standards Monterey Bay and MSC to understand what species are active and what species need to take a break. For example, we should really stop eating Bigeye Tunas, they need to be able to regenerate if we still want to have them in the future.”
How do you spread this message to educate the consumer?
“As a Chef Ambassador for the MSC, I hold classes and programs to educate on the meaning of each label. In 2014, I decided to go further and launch Scout to the consumer market to offer shoppers a responsible canned seafood option.”
Can you tell us more about Scout?
“Scout was founded out of a desire to offer consumers nutritious, and delicious craft canned seafood. It gave me the opportunity to fuse my passions for cooking, label tracing, and sustainability. Our mission is to reduce food waste and protect the oceans. Scout sources 100% of seafood directly from regional fishing communities across Canada and the US. By buying a can you’ve got an option for great protein, sustainably-sourced ingredients, nutrients and no chemicals. Even the lining of the can is a safe vegetable lining, without any chemicals. I like to call it the “commodity alternative” because it is unfortunately an industry where there is very low transparency.”
What are the challenges in choosing the best tinned fish?
“It’s difficult to find an option for a convenient, healthy, and honest seafood. The reason why canned tuna is so accessible is because, in many cases, the producers use low-income communities in marginalized countries to process the product. For example, in some cases it’s harvested in Canada, shipped to Asia (very often Thailand), packaged there, labeled with a beautiful box with no information on the sourcing making it untraceable. They could easily mislead consumers on the species, putting in that can lower grade, lower protein, cheaper species. And, who will notice? There is also a chance it comes from slavery – which is still very real in the fishing industry. That’s the reason why consumers must refer to organic certifications, international standards and labels as a guideline. The MSC certification is a guarantee for a trusted source and ethically-caught seafood.”
What is the future of gastronomy?
“To ensure a more sustainable future, we must find a balance between the most responsible wild-caught species and the most responsibly-farmed seafood. Aquaculture will certainly be feeding the world.”
What is your advice for a chef who wants to start having a more sustainable approach? Where or what to start with?
“First, I’d recommend giving me a call or email me. Then, go to the Marine Stewardship Council website to understand what’s in season. The Monterey Bay is also a great place to start and a fantastic tool to refer to. For global aquaculture standards check out the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and don’t hesitate to talk to your fisherman!”
And I’d recommend reading this book: Eat Like a Fish: My Adventures Farming the Ocean to Fight Climate Change by Bren Smith.”
What is your hope for the future?
“Besides becoming the Can Queen of Canada? – she jokes. My hope for the future is to see consumers challenging themselves by eating a larger variety of ethically-sourced seafood species, being more curious, asking more questions and being more involved and concerned about ocean-health."