Setting a New Standard for Sustainable Seafood Sourcing

New Fish to Fork program offers guidelines for supporting
local, small-scale, environmentally responsible fishing and aquaculture

Palo Alto, CA (September 20, 2011) — “Eating local” has become a way of life for many consumers, but even dedicated locavores flounder when they enter the murky waters of local seafood. Just because a fish came off a nearby dock doesn’t always make it a local fish, and “local” doesn’t always equal “sustainable” in regards to certain species or how the fish were caught. Meanwhile, many conscientious consumers avoid farmed seafood entirely, unaware that responsible local producers exist.

Bon Appétit Management Company today announced a breakthrough in sustainable seafood sourcing with Fish to Fork, a program that outlines what “local” and “small-scale” means for both wild and farmed seafood and elevates certain overlooked species that have both great flavor and robust supplies. The company has long been a leader in this area — starting with a commitment in 2002 to serve only seafood that meets Monterey Bay Aquarium’s  Seafood Watch guidelines — and with the new program, it is once again the first in the restaurant industry to take such proactive measures.

Bon Appétit will roll out the new purchasing guidelines companywide for its 400 cafes in 31 states. The company worked with a marine science expert to define what constitutes truly local fish and to identify certain overlooked-yet-tasty species that will expose consumers to fish such as amberjack, a delicacy in Florida that’s often discarded as bycatch, or to blue catfish, an invasive species clogging Maryland waters.

The Fish to Fork program prioritizes fishing and aquaculture practices that are small-scale, biodiverse, and energy conscious, and that offer great flavor. Among the guidelines:

  • Traceability: Seafood suppliers must present a reliable system of traceability from the farm or the boat to Bon Appétit kitchens.
  • Size: Boats must be individually owned and operated, and not process the seafood on board. Aquaculture operations will be limited to those grossing less than $5 million per year per species. Small-scale fishing and aquaculture operations that practice integrated multi-species fishing or aquaculture will be emphasized.
  • Distance: Boats should travel no more than 100 miles out to sea per trip. Distribution distance for wild fish or aquacultured products is limited to 500 miles by truck from dock or farm to Bon Appétit kitchens.
  • Species preferences: Low-on-the-food-chain species (such as sardines, oysters); species whose edible portion could be better utilized (such as scallops, much of which gets discarded by U.S. processors); less-widely eaten larger species (Seafood Watch “green”- or “yellow”-rated) that can substitute for one of the “Top Ten” species, such as tuna, whose popularity is endangering the species.

“Bon Appétit’s new program is a good example of what a truly comprehensive sustainable seafood purchasing policy could look like,” said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of Seafood Watch.

Fish to Fork complements Bon Appétit’s Farm to Fork local, seasonal purchasing program, started in 1999. Seafood was included in the original Farm to Fork guidelines, with first preference for locally landed fish that were rated “green” or “yellow” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Over the years, Bon Appétit learned that just as with meat, poultry, and dairy, seafood presents different issues than produce. Fish to Fork was born when the company realized not only were there tough questions it couldn’t always answer about the fish it was serving, but it wasn’t sure it was asking the right questions of its suppliers. Eighteen months of primary research — visiting fishing and fish-farming operations around the country — as well as consultations with a marine science expert and Seafood Watch staff followed.

Bon Appétit is also designating 14 of its chefs in different areas of the country as “piscators.” Like the Farm to Fork foragers, their role will be to locate and develop purchasing relationships with local fishers and fish farmers who meet the criteria and who will then serve clusters of cafes. Similarly, Fish to Fork will also channel Bon Appétit Management Company’s supply-chain clout toward helping hundreds more small, environmentally responsible producers, creating local jobs and healthier communities.

“In the year that Bon Appétit’s chefs at Marvell, VSP, eBay, Oracle, Stanford, Yahoo, and elsewhere have been buying my fish, they’ve become our ranch’s largest single restaurant customer,” says Michael Passmore, owner of Passmore Ranch, a small sturgeon, bass, trout, and carp, and catfish farm near Sacramento, CA. “Knowing Bon Appétit’s commitment to purchasing fresh, quality local fish has given us the confidence to invest in building our own processing plant.”

Bon Appétit’s decade-plus of Farm to Fork experience has driven home the lesson that local doesn’t always mean sustainable. The integrity of the Fish to Fork program will depend on working with the Seafood Watch team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Some fisheries or farms for unusual species may not have been formally assessed and rated by the Seafood Watch program, so the two organizations are working on a tool to conduct seafood assessments before the fisher or fish farmer is registered as an approved Fish to Fork supplier.

“Destructive fishing practices, irresponsible aquaculture, and factory-like processing conditions have become the norm to meet exploding consumer demand for high-quality seafood.  For decades we’ve seen good fishing jobs disappear and, along with them, a real loss of flavor on our plates,” says Helene York, Bon Appétit’s director of strategic initiatives and the captain of the company’s new program. “Fish to Fork is about working with responsible fishing businesses and family-owned boats who are trying hard to reverse these trends.”

About Bon Appétit Management Company

Bon Appétit Management Company ( is an on-site restaurant company offering full food-service management to corporations, universities, and specialty venues. Based in Palo Alto, CA, Bon Appétit has more than 400 cafés in 31 states, including eBay, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Getty Center. A pioneer in environmentally sound sourcing policies, Bon Appétit has developed programs addressing local purchasing, the overuse of antibiotics, sustainable seafood, cage-free eggs, the connection between food and climate change, and, most recently, farmworker welfare. The company has received numerous awards for its work from organizations such as the James Beard Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Seafood Choices Alliance, The Humane Society of the United States, and Food Alliance. Its dining operations at Wheaton College in Illinois were recently voted Best College Food by 122,000 college students surveyed by the Princeton Review.