THE MARINE Conservation Society (MCS) says the lack of participation in its latest Supermarket Seafood Survey by some of the UK’s most well-known retailers is keeping consumers in the dark when it comes to choosing sustainable seafood.
MCS says if supermarkets aren’t being transparent about where and how their seafood is being sourced and sold then it’s hard for consumers to have trust in the sustainability of the fish being sold to them.
Tesco, which has the highest market share of seafood of all the UK’s supermarkets declined to take part in the survey, which assesses retailers’ seafood policies, own brand sources and labelling, as well as other indicators of how seriously supermarkets take sustainability. Aldi also chose not to participate this year with Asda, Lidl, Spar and Budgen not even responding.
However the charity says some participating supermarkets have shown a real improvement.
Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer are the two supermarkets leading the way in joint first, whilst the Co-operative comes in close second and Waitrose third. Morrisons have again missed out on a top three place yet showed promise in some survey categories.
“This survey is great news for Sainsbury’s,” says MCS Fisheries Officer, Samuel Stone. “They have the second highest market share of seafood behind Tesco and have managed to join M&S at the top for the first time. They now have the best seafood policy in place, great consumer information and a very good proportion of seafood that is certified or rated well by MCS.”
MCS says M&S have once again performed very well in nearly all survey categories and continue to extend their strong ethical influence on the supply chain.
Iceland and North of England based Booths are still selling far too much seafood from the MCS Fish to Avoid list and have not, unlike other retailers, made efforts to improve these fisheries and farms.
However the charity says traceability and labelling of seafood still needs improvement from all retailers: “In many cases seafood has a longer supply chain than meat. We know that some fish caught in UK waters is then sent halfway across the world, often to Asia, to be processed and then transported back here and sold in our supermarkets,” says Samuel Stone. “What’s needed in the supply chain are the 3T’s - trust, transparency and traceability – to make sure that seafood doesn’t have its own ‘horsemeat’ scandal to deal with.”
MCS says it wants to see key environmental credentials travel with the product throughout the supply chain, so that at any point in the chain, they can be easily identified. However, the charity says, it appears that IT constraints, time and willingness within the industry are making better traceability hard to achieve.
MCS says it’s encouraged to see the overall high proportions of seafood rated by MCS as 3 or better or certified to recognised standards being sold. This represented 100% of the Co-op’s own brand seafood sources and 91% for Waitrose. Despite finishing outside the top three Iceland and Booths both did well in this area and Booths have committed to developing a seafood policy this year. Although Morrisons came last in this category their percentage of own-brand sources was still 69%. “This is very encouraging” says Samuel Stone, “but it means that nearly a third of all their own brand seafood sources need considerable improvement”.
Nearly half of the seafood sold in the UK is now from farmed sources and MCS says it will be asking retailers to ensure these farms use responsibly sourced feed for all species. “We are seeing good uptake of responsible feed for salmon, but for fish farmed outside of the UK it is a different story. With so much fish being imported, our retailers have to ensure the use of responsible feed for all farmed fish, as well as encouraging the use of a wide range of feed ingredients for all species,” says Dawn Purchase, Senior Aquaculture Officer at MCS.
Whilst improvements have been made, labelling and consumer awareness continues to be an issue for even the leading retailers. New labelling laws come into effect this year, which means that shoppers should start to see better information on seafood products, including how the fish was caught, where it was caught or farmed, and the full species name. MCS says if shoppers can’t see this information on their seafood products - including those sold online - they should choose something else. This information is essential when consumers are checking products against the MCS fish advice website www.fishonline.org or the charity’s Pocket Good Fish Guide and smart phone Apps.
MCS says consumers should shop with their feet, and buy their seafood from the best performing supermarkets. See www.mcsuk.org for the full results.