Most supermarket seafood products now sustainably sourced

The overwhelming majority of seafood products in UK supermarkets are now responsibly sourced and labelled consistently in line with industry guidelines, new research from environmental law firm ClientEarth has found.

The study examined the implementation of labelling and sourcing codes by all 24 Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) members since the guidelines were set in 2014.

Businesses across the seafood sector, such as Birds Eye, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Sainsbury’s, are obtaining 97% of products in line with the SSC sourcing code, the research found. Clear and consistent labelling has increased by 15% since the SSC was founded in 2011, according to the study.

“As more and more shops label and source seafood in using the same criteria, customers can have faith that the products they buy are truly sustainable,” ClientEarth Sustainable Seafood Project Lead Katie Miller said.

“Now other seafood businesses – from chip shops to restaurant chains and school canteens – must step up to make sure the fish they sell is responsibly sourced and clearly labelled.”

The SSC’s sustainability benchmarks were launched to halt concerns that supermarkets were using terms such as ‘responsibly farmed’ with no set criteria against which to make the claim. ClientEarth’s research highlights the success of the SSC codes, with only 3% of claims from SSC members found to be potentially misleading or unverified in the new research, compared to 14% of claims made by companies not signed up to the guidelines.  

But while the benchmark has allowed for seafood to be sourced more responsibly, the SCC insists that more improvements can be made by businesses across the sector.

The industry body recommends better on-pack information to help consumers make more informed choices, along with an extension of sustainability information to online sites. Greater transparency in responsible sourcing practices should be demonstrated through up-to-date and comprehensive information on policies, the SSC has said.

Changing tides

The latest research nevertheless reflects a trend of heightened action among businesses and industry groups to ensure seafood reaching British shores is sustainably sourced. The volume of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified catch increased by a further 6% last year, a report from the non-profit revealed in October.

The MSC last month celebrated its 20th anniversary with a new target to raise certified marine catch from current levels of 14% to more than a third by 2030. This included new priority species such as squid, octopus, crab and seaweed, a move which was welcomed by German discount supermarket Lidl, one of the first large retailers to commit to responsibly sourced seafood.

A host of UK retailers and restaurants have signed up to the MSC standard in recent times; most recently hotel chain Premier Inn, which has pledged to serve an extra three million sustainable portions of fish and chips across the UK.

George Ogleby

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