Consumer conscience catches up with fishing industry

Spurred on by a shift in consumer ethics, supermarkets are becoming more picky about the fish they will buy and this is having a major impact on techniques employed by the UK's seafood industry.

According to a new league table published by Greenpeace this week, supermarkets have made huge improvements in sustainable procurement of fish since this time last year.

Though it is rare for the environmental pressure group to heap praise on the retail giants on this occasion Greenpeace gives the supermarkets full credit for using their purchasing power to persuade many fishermen to drop destructive techniques such as beam trawling.

The league table puts Marks & Spencer in the top spot, awarding the supermarket ‘A’ grades for the sustainability of its wild caught and farmed fish, as well as general issues.

Waitrose also gets a string of ‘A’s, but was not deemed to be performing quite as well as M&S so is relegated to a respectable second.

Of the big four, Sainsbury’s is well out in the lead in third place with Asda, Tesco and Morrisons sharing fifth place below the Co-op in fourth.

Asda is singled out for praise as last year it came bottom in the league table but has now introduced a new policy and a commitment to sell only sustainably managed seafood within 3 to 5 years.

Somerfield and Iceland come at the bottom of this year’s league table.

Greenpeace oceans campaigner, Oliver Knowles, said: “The seafood industry in the UK is undergoing nothing short of a revolution, and it is being driven by the new standards in ‘green’ seafood demanded by supermarkets like Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.

“Supermarkets are in a prime position to drive forward the protection of the oceans. They should be praised for the considerable progress that they have made in the last year but even the best can do better.”

However, there is a sting in the tail of Greenpeace’s praise for the supermarkets, as it says that despite the enormous progress made by supermarkets over the last 12 months, a large amount of seafood remains on sale caught using methods highly destructive of the ocean environment.

Beam trawling is one of the most destructive fishing methods currently used – it is both highly destructive of the seabed and ocean life, and is massively wasteful.

Greenpeace is calling on all supermarkets to take immediate measures to ban beam trawled species from their shelves.

Mr Knowles added: “Beam trawling is a thoroughly destructive and wasteful way to fish for species such as plaice and sole. Because of its indiscriminate nature, up to 70% of what’s caught in the net is thrown away as waste, dead or dying.

“Supermarkets should act without delay in clearing their shelves of seafood caught in this way and change to the less destructive fishing methods that their new policies commit them to.”

Sam Bond

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