Filipinos love seafood, but will there be enough for everyone in the future?

Twenty-two chefs, three restaurateurs, Save Philippine Seas and Cold Storage recently came together to discuss how reshaping food systems can help make our seas abundant again.  

In this age of climate change and food insecurity, there has been a growing call to come together to ensure greater sustainability and renewal of dwindling resources. It is time for Gen Sea! Gen Sea: Dive Into Sustainability.

This landmark collaboration between Cold Storage and Save Philippine Seas aims to build true environmental stewardship and community leaders dedicated to shaping the future of our oceans. “It is a movement dedicated to advocating for sustainable fishing practices and responsible sourcing,” says Marco Qua, president of Cold Storage.

Cold Storage has been in the business of providing high quality seafood to loyal customers for over 30 years. They wanted to evolve their business to include a stronger commitment to environmental causes while supporting local livelihood. Their first step was launching Lokal, a line of frozen seafood sourced from local fishing groups. According to Qua, this aligns with one of their goals—to address the rise in seafood prices when it is past “catching season.”

Fresh seafood in the market: Many chefs have overhauled their kitchen processes to keep wastage to a minimum if not zero.

“We want to teach fishermen that you can responsibly catch more, while the conditions are right, and then companies like Cold Storage can provide the facilities to store the rest of their catch,” he explains. “This supply will help keep the prices stable.” This is a practice being done abroad, and he sees the possibility of it working here, much like the imported seafood they sell year-round.

This desire to ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy the bounty of the sea led Cold Storage to Save Philippine Seas (SPS). Led by Anna Oposa, executive director and “chief mermaid,” it started as a social media campaign in 2011 against an illegal wildlife case, then became a full-fledged NGO in 2013. Their main focus is environmental education and empowerment for ‘seatizens.’

“We call our community seatizens—a play on the word ‘citizen’—because we want to remind Filipinos that we are all connected to the sea,” says Oposa. “The Philippines is the second largest archipelago in the world…and yet there is still this emotional disconnect that people feel towards the sea. We want them to fall in love with the sea (again).”

Among the list of advocacies that SPS dreamed of bringing to fruition was sustainable seafood. Serendipitously, Cold Storage reached out to pursue a partnership. “Gen Sea is a movement dedicated to advocating for sustainable fishing practices and responsible sourcing,” says Qua.

“It’s an opportunity to bring this topic into the mainstream,” Oposa explains their intention to make people understand how seafood goes from the sea to your plate. The shared vision is “to live in a country where there is plenty of seafood for everyone, where the sea is clean, and all Filipinos can benefit from it….” she stresses.

As such, education, innovative processes, and long-term product sustainability for the protection of marine ecosystems were the topic du jour over lunch at The Manila House.

Chefs come together for sustainability

(From left) Your Local’s Patrick Go, Restaurant Aurora’s Quenee Vilar, Angelo Comsti, Metiz’s Stephan Duhesme, The Fatted Calf’s Rhea Sycip, Restaurant Aurora’s Nicco Santos and The Fatted Calf’s Jayjay Sycip.

At the center of the conversation, moderated by award-winning author and chef Angelo Comsti, were some of the country’s top restaurateurs and F&B experts. The likes of Restaurant Aurora’s Nicco Santos and Quenee Vilar, Metiz and Automat’s Stephan Duhesme, Your Local’s Patrick Go, and The Fatted Calf’s Rhea and Jayjay SyCip spoke about how they have transformed their own kitchens and internal processes to accommodate sustainability practices and food waste management.

Everything from nose-to-tail cuisine to cooking with scraps helps create a workable and supported ecosystem within their individual capacities. Their consensus: You need everyone to join the movement— every single person on the team. Once that’s in place, then they all work toward the same goal.

There is also a concerted push to source as many of their ingredients locally or as close to home as possible. This mindset is redefining the way the industry operates, paving the way for campaigns like Gen Sea to flourish long-term. To drive the point home, a menu featuring the most delectable seafood was thoughtfully prepared by the chefs of The Manila House. Each one was an interplay of textures and flavors, without taking the focus away from the clean flavors of the sea.

The first three courses—Salmon Sashimi, Seared Scallops with Ikura and Spicy Mayo, and Grilled Halibut Mushroom Au Jus—opened the meal on a light note. The Pomelo and Shrimp Salad, followed by the Pan Seared Salmon in Miso Butter, and the Grilled Pampano in Thai Red Curry Sauce, explored the exotic flavors of Asia.

Each of the dishes highlighted the importance of having the freshest products of the ocean available for today and generations to come. As Oposa explains, “Sustainable seafood is so important, because we eat to live. And we also live to eat as Filipinos.”

Comsti did raise an interesting point as the event wrapped up. “I hope these efforts will go beyond just a discussion. There have already been a lot of those in the past. Now is the time to put them all into action, in a way that will impact the fishermen and farmers.”

SPS’ Harvey Perello sums it up this way: “The Philippines’ islands are physically connected by our seas; within that connection is our shared love for great food. We encourage everyone to continue strengthening that connection by ensuring that every recipe and every plate of seafood is served with sustainability as one of the main ingredients.”

With all the elements working against humanity, it is up to humanity to step up, or shall we say, dive in.

The new lifestyle.