After a year of work with some local restaurants, The Biological Conservation Research Foundation (BICREF), in consultation with the Conservation Biology Research Group (CBRG), has selected and awarded the Eco-Seafood Restaurants the 2007 ECO Aware and Care Restaurant Awards. Among the 16 seafood restaurants that were selected as runners up for this award for 2007 the following ranked the highest: In Gozo, the awards went to: Il-Kartell Restaurant in Marsalforn for 1st place, followed by It-Tmun Restaurant in Xlendi. In Malta, the awards went to: Villa Corinthia Restaurant at San Anton for 1st place, followed by San Giuliano Restaurant in St. Julians and Oceana Restaurant in Portomaso.
To assist consumers, sea-food restaurants and fishermen, BICREF plans to expand on this year’s effort and produce leaflets with marine species needing greatest attention, with an indication of their local conservation status and requirements. This project aims to increase the public’s and industries’ awareness and participation in urgent marine conservation needs.
Unsustainable and irresponsible fishing threatens marine life and degradates marine habitats. This can happen especially when fishing is not monitored and managed properly. On the other hand, careful management and wiser consumer practices assist fisheries toward remaining productive and environmentally friendly. For example, when tuna fishing with purse-seine was found to kill thousands of dolphins, many consumers decreased or eliminated tuna from their diets until fishers and industry took into consideration and deployed dolphin-friendly nets and monitoring. Though some countries and fishing industries have gone forward in their efforts to protect marine life as a whole, others still need to work harder and be encouraged by consumers to do so. Therefore consumers that wish to contribute toward marine conservation should have access to information on seafoods’ origin and fisheries management in order to be in a position to make responsible choices when purchasing sea food or eating out. Unless unsustainable practices do not reverse course, marine biodiversity face continued decline and extinction.
In general, restaurants should keep various things in mind in their management practices, toward a more environmentally friendly operation. Dinegreen states  that restaurants can work toward for example: Energy and Water Efficiency & Conservation; Pollution Prevention; Using locally grown foods to reduce the amount of pollution associated with transportation primarily by fossil fuels, etc. In the same way marine products need to be assessed for their origin, way of capture, measures to safeguard the wild stock and habitat in the wild and if from aquaculture the methods used to grow such fish. Local aquaculture and fisheries products that respect environmental quality and species conservation should be greatly promoted and selected for, as opposed to those that do not.
BICREF felt that the Maltese Sea food restaurants may set an example to other local restaurants toward coming to terms not only with the various environmental challenges mentioned above but also focus on the promotion of sea food that is exploited in respect of working toward sustainable fisheries and marine habitat conservation.
Toward this end BICREF, sought out the collaboration of the Conservation Biology Research Group (CBRG) of the University of Malta, in starting to set local priorities in consideration of marine organisms requiring urgent conservation research and management including education in the seafood restaurant industry. A brief questionnaire was forwarded to a sample of about 100 Maltese Sea food restaurants to obtain an indication of local knowledge on: species abundance; conservation needs; fishing techniques utilised to catch the marine species bought by the restaurant; apart from the demands; and choices of customers for these species. The results highlight the increasing awareness by some restaurants’ chefs and managers that indeed various local marine species are on the decline and that local catch often does not suffice the demand thus needing to import items. It was also positive to note that these same restaurants looked forward to be of assistance in local marine conservation projects led by the CBRG of University of Malta toward understanding better the populations of species which show to be in danger of going extinct or declining locally.
The CBRG has been active in conservation biology research related to wild stock fisheries for years and has investigated by-catch of local fishing methods while investigating local stocks that show signs of decline, such as the common octopus, shark species, blue fin tuna and others. Such conservation research is essential toward improving responsible fishing and sustainable exploitation of our marine resources. Scientific research and monitoring can guide local industries make sustainable use of wild stocks and natural resources.
BICREF looks forward to see this collaborative and conservation project continue in the coming years and thanks all restaurants that have spent time to fill-up and forward there questionnaires, answer any additional queries from researchers and decide to participate in scientific conservation research projects with great enthusiasm.
For further information contact BICREF on: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: BICREF, PO BOX 30, HAMRUN