Retailers make landmark sustainable seafood pledge

Leading British supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer (M&S) are among a cross-sector cluster of organisations that have voluntarily signed an agreement to protect a key Arctic region from industrial fishing, by preventing suppliers from expanding cod fisheries into pristine marine waters.

Signed by an alliance of global fishing stakeholders including the catchers, processors, retailers and foodservice, this new agreement will ensure limitations to industrial fishing while robust scientific research takes place in the largely unexplored ocean environment of the Barents and Norwegian Seas.

The list of signatories also includes Asda, Morrisons, McDonald’s, Birds Eye and Young’s Seafood. 

Under the arrangement – which spans the entire supply chain from sea to shelf – any fishing companies operating in these pristine Arctic waters will be prohibited from selling cod to the global agreement partners.

The deal was struck off the back of a report from Greenpeace which highlighted concerns that sea ice melt has the potential to allow fishing boats to operate in previously unfished areas around the Svalbard Archipelago, running the risk of harming vulnerable marine habitats.

Commenting on the deal, Greenpeace UK campaigner Daniela Montalto said: “This is a major step in the right direction. This unprecedented alliance have today taken a stand for the fragile Arctic environment, and set an important precedent for other industries eyeing up this region.

“The challenge for these companies is now to deliver on their commitment to Arctic protection and show real results out on the water. The melting ice should be a stark warning of the dangers of climate change, not an opportunity to plunder this fragile ecosystem.”

The agreement also compels fishermen to accelerate current plans to ensure that the fishery is condition-free under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification – the highest possible standard of fisheries sustainability – by strengthening their work to identify and avoid vulnerable marine ecosystems, including coral and sea pens.

Big steps

Today’s announcement signifies another welcome step by UK retailers, moving towards sustainable seafood sourcing. Last month, M&S became the first British retailer to support and improve the environmental sustainability of the fishing sector by signing up to the UK’s Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) which provides a set of guidelines for supplier vessels and skippers.

Lidl became the first British retailer to stock MSC-certified lobster late last year, and was listed among the nation’s top retailers for MSC sustainable seafood in January. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s recently made an industry-leading commitment to launch a certified sustainable tuna sandwich as part of its on-going efforts to deliver more sustainable seafood.

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George Ogleby

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