Campaigners are calling on government and businesses to ensure 100% of the seafood produced and consumed in the UK comes from sustainable sources by 2030 after a new report found consumption of some species was linked to significant nature, climate and social impacts.
WWF’s risky seafood business report has for the first time quantified the total volume of the seafood eaten by people in the UK. In 2019 this measured 887,000 tonnes – equivalent to 5.2 billion portions of fish and chips by weight – over 80% of which was fished or farmed outside of UK waters.
Tuna, swordfish, warm-water prawns, squid and some crab species were found to have the highest environmental and social footprint across a range of indicators, while mussels and small pelagic fish like herring and sardines have the lowest footprint.
Businesses are being urged to adopt the “seascape” approach that puts the health of ocean ecosystems at the heart of their sourcing policies to improve fisheries management, including offering more diverse seafood choices to consumers.
WWF recommends that consumers opt for lower footprint seafood choices where possible, particularly locally produced seafood like mussels and more diverse species like sardines.
Across all species groups, the report found that more than 250 endangered, threatened and protected species, from whales and dolphins to seabirds and sharks, have been directly impacted by fisheries and aquaculture around the world, supplying UK markets.
WWF said that certification schemes for sustainable seafood were only a “first step”, not an end point for efforts to put the sector on a sustainable footing. Although it recognised that progress has been made to develop and strengthen certification schemes for seafood, the study showed that problems persist, not least due to the complex supply chains for seafood imports to the UK.
More than two thirds (70%) of the UK’s domestic seafood production is exported overseas while 81% of seafood by volume eaten in the UK is imported. There are no environmental or social regulatory criteria set for imported seafood apart from ensuring the wild-caught seafood is from a legal source.
“The ocean is the blue heart of our planet and we ignore its health at our peril,” said Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF. “Protecting this precious resource should be the top priority of every single fishery around the world, yet for too long unsustainable practices have gone unchecked, draining the ocean of life.”
WWF wants to see UK governments and businesses ensure that 100% of the seafood produced and consumed in the UK comes from sustainable sources by 2030.
It is also calling for government action to strengthen regulations tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to set core environmental standards for all foods sold in the UK including seafood.
In related news, the Blue Marine Foundation has launched a campaign to address what it called the “dire state of British cod populations”.
Executive director Charles Clover launched the #BringBackBritishCod campaign at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where he was discussing his latest book, Rewilding the Sea: How to Save Our Oceans.
The campaign calls on the British public to sign a petition urging the UK government to better manage near-collapsed cod populations around the British Isles and set sustainable catch limits which will allow stocks to recover.