Supermarkets urged to prevent high-risk salmon sourcing

Supermarket giants Sainsbury's and the Co-op have been called upon by a conservationist group to stop putting Scottish farmed fish on their shelves to maintain sustainable sourcing credentials.

In the run up to Christmas, Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) are urging the supermarkets to issue ultimatums to farmed salmon suppliers to protect West Coast salmon and sea trout populations. S&TCS call for the prevention of fishing within regions in the West Highlands and Islands where sea lice infestations pose a major threat to the survival of the species in these areas.

S&TCS have revealed that both supermarkets have been selling fish sourced from areas of Scotland where louse numbers have been recorded well over both industry criteria and new Government trigger levels.

S&TCS Director Andrew Graham-Stewart said: “By purchasing farmed salmon from regions where sea lice parasite numbers on farmed fish are so high, both Sainsbury’s and the Co-op are failing to live up to their mantras of responsible sourcing.

“These supermarkets should now use their commercial clout in line with their declared environmental policies and issue ultimatums that they will cease buying any more fish from farms in badly lice-hit regions.

“Without such commercial pressure the salmon farmers will continue to operate with sea lice levels that will inevitably cause massive damage to wild fish, killing juvenile wild salmon and sea trout as they go to sea for the first time.”

Breached limits

According to data published by the Scottish Salmon Producer’s Organisation’s (SSPO), the worst regions for sea lice control from July to September include Loch Long and Croe, Loch Fyne, Isle of Lewis and Harris – all of which supplied either Sainsbury’s or Co-op this autumn.

Over the past year to September 2016, data produced by the SSPO revealed that, for at least one month this year, 80.1% of Scottish farmed salmon regions have been rated as over the industry limit for lice per fish.

The Co-op says that its salmon products are made using “responsibly sourced fish”, and that its sourcing policy means that “we only source fish from well-managed fisheries or farms and it applies to all fish sold in our stores”.

On their salmon product packaging, Sainsbury’s claims: “We recognise that the health of our farmed fish can potentially impact on wild salmonids in the vicinity of the farm. Our farmers strive to maintain our fish in excellent health and to control the presence of parasitic sea lice in order to minimise potential impacts on wild fish in the vicinity of the farm.”

Despite this recent development, Sainsbury’s has been involved in a number of sustainable fishing initiatives. Earlier this year, Sainsbury’s was among a number of leading UK supermarkets including Tesco and Marks and Spencer (M&S) that voluntarily signed a cross-sector agreement to protect a key Artic region from industrial fishing. The agreement prevents suppliers from expanding cod fisheries into pristine marine waters.

Sustainable sourcing

The S&TCS call comes off the back of a controversial decision by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to certify the deep-water bottom trawl fishery in New Zealand orange roughy as “sustainable”.

A damning report that accused the New Zealand fishing industry of dumping fish was excluded from the certification process. The report revealed the real amount of fish caught being almost three times of that reported.

The decision was met with scorn from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), whose founder Matthew Gianni said: “This is a farce and the public can no longer have confidence in MSC certification.

“If the MSC can certify this fishery, which threatens to destroy deep sea corals and other long-lived and vulnerable deep sea species and habitats, as ‘sustainable’ and describe the fish as ‘responsibly caught’, then it lacks any credibility. The MSC should either be fundamentally reformed or replaced by a standard that the public can have confidence in.”

In related news, The United Nations (UN) has reiterated calls for prohibiting deep-sea fisheries in areas with vulnerable deep-sea habitats. The resolution challenges countries to be precautionary in the catch or bycatch of vulnerable, threatened and endangered species. Also, it calls on countries to consider the impact on climate change and ocean acidification into protecting deep sea habitats.

Alex Baldwin

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