Pioneering women in food: How Caroline Bennett is setting the standards for sustainable fishing

For this year’s International Women’s Day in a new article series, we’re recognising the women in food breaking the moulds in the kitchen, and in the fields and on the fishing boats… 

We spoke to seven trailblazing women – Asma KhanVandana Shiva, Helen Browning, Caroline Bennett, Dee Woods, Alice Robinson and Sarah Grady – who are each pushing sustainability, regeneration and ethics forwards within their industries and making space for other women to do so, too.  

We find out how their work is changing the face of the industry and women’s place in it, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and what more there is to be done…

Caroline Bennett’s story

Caroline Bennett opened a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, Moshi Moshi, in London in 1994, at a time when many people didn’t even know what sushi was. 

In her quest to be as authentic as possible, yellowfin tuna was on the menu, but she soon learned it was an endangered fish and removed it from menus despite its popularity. 

As fishing industrialised Caroline began to find it “virtually impossible to find non-farmed fish”. To bridge the gap, she started another business, Sole of Discretion, in 2016.

Sole of Discretion’s distinguishing feature is that it sells truly traceable fish. “Supermarkets seem to go out of their way to make it difficult to know where fish really comes from,” Caroline says. 

Typically, traceability of fish is lost at the port.

“As far as I know,” Caroline says, “we’re the only fishmongers that can track our fish back to the boat at a consumer retail level.” “Everything sold has the name of the boat, skipper and how it was caught on it,” so people can understand exactly how and where their fish was caught.

Caroline ensures everything is processed by hand too, which she says is the only way to “really extract as much value from the fish as you can, and it also means not wasting anything”.

This whole system actively supports small scale fishers, which are boats of 10-metres or less. Caroline has pushed for better ethics and sustainability in the fishing industry, and helped forge an understanding of truly sustainable fishing practices. She’s currently working on a certification supported by the Soil Association, which she hopes will be her legacy. “And then I can retire”, she jokes. 

The aim is that the certification label will make it easy for people to distinguish between low impact caught fish and those caught by industrial fishing methods, which are highly destructive to the marine environment. 

Crucially, it goes far beyond the criteria that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) currently does, which doesn’t “recognise any human element”.

One of the elements of the certification insists that the skipper and crew are local, which provides local employment meaning money can be spent locally, too. Modern day slavery is a huge problem with larger boats, enabled because the crew are prohibited from coming ashore and therefore are not subject to British employment law.

The environmental factors include having as little impact on the ocean and seabed as possible. Small scale fishers “discard virtually nothing. They don’t leave plastic debris in the sea,” Caroline explains. Big trawlers on the other hand, cover their heavy gear with a protective plastic layer that is designed to slowly degrade in the sea, “thereby creating loads of micro plastics,” says Caroline.

She believes fishing stopped being sustainable when “women stopped being involved in fisheries”. “Women have played a massive part in fisheries for so long,” she says, and were “traditionally the ones who processed the catch once it was landed on the quayside”.

She even goes as far to say that “I can’t imagine a successful ethical, sustainable fishery going forward without women’s involvement“.

Caroline hopes that women can be involved again in small-scale fishing, which she thinks will help support the community too, who could group together to sell their catches making a more attractive and simpler purchase for big buyers like supermarkets.

Follow Sole of Discretion: @sole_of_discretion
Read moresoleofdiscretion.co.uk

International Women’s Day, marked annually on 8 March, celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, across the globe, who are dismantling discrimination, driving equal opportunities and empowering women and girls.

About the author

Emma Henderson

Emma Henderson

Emma Henderson is a freelance writer and editor and has been a journalist for 10 years, where for most of that time she worked at The Independent. She specialises in food and drink, covering everything from plastic free tea to sustainable fishing. She was the Editor of IndyEats, The Independent's digital food magazine. She writes widely about sustainability, ethics and greenwashing in food and beyond.

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