Retailers found wanting on farmed fish

Supermarkets have been accused of “a complete lack of leadership” on the sustainability of farmed fish after a new report identified issues with feed and welfare.

More than three quarters (76%) of major European retailers are failing to address the sustainability of their farmed fish supply chains, according to the report from the Changing Markets Foundation, Feedback and partner NGOs based in France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.

They studied the policies of 33 major food retailers representing 49 national supermarket chains, including those in the UK, and found none had set a clear target to phase out the use of wild-caught fish in feed, a practice they described as “hugely damaging”.

The report cited FAO estimates that 34.2% of fish stocks globally are being overfished, up from 10% in 1974, while another 60% is fished to maximum sustainable levels.

Despite being touted as a solution to overfishing, the report claimed aquaculture is contributing to the problem. It said every year almost 20% of the world’s marine fish catch is taken out of the ocean and converted to fish meal and fish oil (FMFO) to feed farmed animals with more than two-thirds of that amount destined for seafood farming. The vast majority of this is sourced from countries where food security is a problem, such as the West African region.

Among the few retailers taking steps to eliminate or reduce the use of wild caught fish in feed, the report cited French retailer Auchan which has a target for transitioning 50% of the farmed seafood it sells to feed which contains less or no FMFO, and Tesco which has a roadmap on how to accelerate the inclusion of alternative ingredients in feed.

The report also highlighted “significant shortcomings” over the welfare of farmed fish. It found half of retailers do not appear to require any reporting from their suppliers on fish mortalities and escapes, while very few have safeguards in place to prevent high mortality rates on fish farms they source from. Only Waitrose has detailed procedures in place for suppliers to report on mortality and escape rates and said it would blacklist farms with high mortality rates if no improvement was forthcoming.

The NGOs are calling on retailers to take a number of actions on the back of their findings including a commitment to phase out the use of wild-caught fish in aquafeed and other farmed animal feed by 2025, and the introduction of strict requirements on how farmed fish and seafood species are reared and slaughtered.

“Left unchecked, this unsustainable, unmonitored and unfair industry will cause irreversible environmental and societal impacts,” said Jessica Sinclair Taylor, head of policy and media at Feedback. “We call on all the major European food retailers to recognise the vital role they can play in addressing the unsustainable nature of the aquaculture sector and demand a shift to more sustainable fish farming practices.”

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