M&S becomes first retailer to make Responsible Fishing pledge

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has made an industry-leading commitment to support and improve the environmental sustainability of the fishing sector by signing up to the UK's Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS).

The RFS is a voluntary scheme which provides a set of guidelines for vessels and skippers to demonstrate in order to receive a certificate. Some of these key areas include safety, health and welfare, training and professional development and care for the environment.

As part of M&S’s commitment to the Scheme, all worldwide fishing boats supplying the retailer will have to gain an RFS certificate by 2021 (or at least be actively working towards a time-bound plan), with an earlier date of 2017 set for UK vessels. RFS certification provides tangible evidence that seafood caught by a fishing boat has been responsibly caught and the boat has the highest standards on crew welfare.

M&S director of food Andy Adcock said: “We’re passionate about being a responsible retailer. We only buy fish from the most sustainable sources, a commitment we’ve worked tirelessly on for almost 20 years, and this pledge means our customers can shop with us knowing we’ve done everything possible to protect the marine environment and those working in our fish supply chain.”

‘Huge boost’

The RFS is led by Seafish, an industry body that supports all sectors of the seafood industry in its drive for a sustainable future. 

Seafish technical director Tom Pickerell said: “The commitment from M&S is another huge boost for RFS and it further marks the intent of the UK seafood industry to be recognised worldwide for its work on reducing social and welfare issues.

“There is a collective call for seafood to be socially responsible as well as environmentally sustainable and as a result we are working with fishermen at the heart of that supply chain to demonstrate adherence to best practice in crew welfare.”


This announcement from M&S marks another welcome progression in the movement of retailers towards sustainable seafood sourcing. At the start of last year, new research from sustainable seafood labelling organisation the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) revealed a growing gap between supermarkets when it comes to offering customers eco-labelled sustainable seafood choices – despite the availability of MSC-certified fish being at an all-time high.

Sainsbury’s is ahead by almost twice its closest competitor in terms of the numbers of sustainable seafood products stocked, with 163 MSC-certified seafood items on its shelves. Sainsbury’s last year became the first UK retailer to launch a certified sustainable tuna sandwich as part of its on-going efforts to deliver more sustainable seafood.

In a blog post about this latest RFS commitment, M&S’s agriculture and fisheries sourcing technologist Hannah Macintyre agreed that more collaboration will be needed across the industry to tackle the issue. “We in the industry believe that RFS will do for fishing standards what the MSC has done for fish stocks – bring together the industry and retailers so that we’re all working towards a sustainable future,” Macintyre wrote.

“M&S cannot influence an industry on its own. We are a very small player in the global market and that’s why working with bodies like Seafish and supporting schemes like RFS, is so important for us and for our customers, who want to buy the best seafood on the market.”

Plan A

M&S’s commitment to the RFS is the latest achievement under the company’s on-going sustainability programme, Plan A, which strives to tackle key sustainable retail challenges. Since its launch in 2007, Plan A has helped M&S send no waste to landfill and become carbon-neutral across its entire worldwide operations. The company has seen a £625m net benefit from the sustainability strategy, with £30m generated from energy savings last year alone.

Last October, M&S announced the launch of a nationwide food redistribution scheme which will see 150 of the supermarket’s biggest stores pass surplus food onto a host of local charities. And earlier this year, M&S announced it wanted to build on retail sustainability plan by fitting out its entire UK estate with LED lighting by 2025.

George Ogleby

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