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12 winners of The Ocean Awards

12 winners of The Ocean Awards

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The Ocean Awards winner Rob Ruiz
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Winner — Restaurateur/Chef: Rob Ruiz

For — his campaign to conserve the vaquita porpoise and promotion of using shrimp caught without use of gillnets

Photo of Rob Ruiz by Lisa Wiseman

The Ocean Awards' Restaurateur/Chef award celebrates the restaurant group, chef or restaurateur who has made the most outstanding commitment to ocean conservation. Rob Ruiz, sushi chef and owner of the Land & Water Company, is the winner for his his campaign to conserve the endangered vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California and to promote the use of shrimp caught without the use of entangling gillnets.

Born and raised in Oceanside, California, and a graduate of the University of Hawaii, where he honed his culinary skills, Rob Ruiz is one of the best sushi chefs in San Diego. He is also committed to the sustainability of the fish he serves and to the whole marine environment, hence his project to conserve the vaquita porpoise that get caught in gillnets. “Our fishing practices have such a negative impact,” he says. “At first I didn’t know that I was contributing to the problem by serving shrimp from the Gulf so now I’m doing everything I can to fix that.”

The vaquita is “to Mexico like the panda is to China”, he says. “It is facing extinction as a result of being caught in the gillnets used to catch shrimp in the Gulf of California, which is then imported into the US.”

Rob has been working with scientists from the Southwest Fisheries Science Centre, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency responsible for the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere, the Mexican government and NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund Mexico and Pro-Natura, as well as directly with fishermen to try to encourage them to use gear that would not endanger the vaquita. In April 2015, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico banned the use of gillnets from the northern Gulf of California until April 2017, during which time fishermen will be encouraged to learn to fish by other, more vaquita-friendly means.

His concern is that it may be too late. “There are only close to 70 individual creatures left and, of those, probably only half are female, so there is also the question of whether there is enough genetic diversity left in their gene pool for them to propagate and repopulate the species now that we have the gillnet ban,” he says. “So we need people to know about the issue and understand the problem. And we have to find a way to educate the fishermen.”

To this end Ruiz has also raised tens of thousands of dollars by holding events at the restaurant in aid of vaquita conservation. It goes without saying that the fish he serves at the Land & Water Company is sustainable, favouring, for instance, octopus that has been diver-caught in Spanish waters, line-caught albacore tuna from Hawaii and Selva shrimp, the first shrimp product to receive the green “Best Choice” recommendation from Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Highly commended — Caroline Bennett, Former fund manager and founder of restaurant Moshi Moshi

For — her campaigns to protect fish stocks and encourage consumers to eat under-used parts of fish in an effort to reduce waste.

Highly commended — McDonald’s, Global fast food chain

For — its work to ensure that the hake or pollock in a Filet-O-Fish or McFish sandwich comes from a fishery certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Its restaurants in 39 European countries, the US and Canada already display the blue MSC label.

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