Dec 30 2010
New campaign aims to educate both retailers and consumers over more sustainable choices of seafood.
Their high-profile and controversial campaign to raise welfare standards in the food industry changed the nation’s eating habits after exposing the reality of cheap, mass-produced chicken in the UK. But now the chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver are turning their attention to the sustainability of fish with a new series – part of Channel 4’s ‘Big Fish Fight’ season – when they are again hoping to shake up consumer behaviour for the better.
Supermarkets will be told to do more to boost Britain’s dwindling fish stocks by offering consumers a wider variety of fish and seafood than is currently available, and will call for better labelling of seafood so customers can make informed choices.
But the programmes will also condemn what the chefs call “the shameful waste” of the widespread practice of “discards” – whereby nearly 1m tonnes of undersized and less marketable fish are thrown back into the sea dead every year at huge financial, environmental and ecological cost. A large proportion of this is “over-quota” fish: prime cod, haddock, coley, whiting, plaice, and other major food species, for which the fishermen have met their allotted quota.
In the North Sea as much as half of all the fish caught are thrown back dead. As part of the ‘Fish Fight’ campaign, viewers will be urged to add their signatures to a letter to the European fisheries minister, Maria Daminaki, calling for the elimination of discards to be elevated to a top priority in the forthcoming review of the European Common Fisheries Policy.
Even before the programmes have been aired, the letter has attracted over 35,000 signatories.
The campaign is being backed by leading marine conservation organisations including Greenpeace and the Marine Conservation Society, with graphic images and compelling new images showing the wastage of discarded catch.
Shoppers could also consider more sustainable, good white fish alternatives to cod such as pollack, coley and pouting. In 2009 Sainsbury’s relaunched unfashionable pollack – cheaper than cod but once deemed fit only for the cat – as “colin”, after which sales soared.
Smaller oily fish such as mackerel, herring and sardines may be a more sustainable choice than any form of farmed salmon, while being an excellent source of Omega 3s. The government’s Food Standards Agency recommends that every adult eats a portion of oily fish once a week (which could also include trout, fresh tuna, sardines, pilchards and eel).
Last yearthe documentary The End of the Line forced a number of retailers to switch to more sustainable varieties of tuna. Sandwich chain Pret a Manger, for example, announced that it would start using skipjack tuna in its sandwiches rather than yellowfin and bluefin tuna, which involve more intensive fishing methods. The film, based on a book by the journalist Charles Clover, predicted that if global fishing methods do not change we will see the end of most seafood by 2048.
Confusing and baffling labelling are also blamed for consumers being unadventurous when it comes to choosing fish. The programmes recommend that retailers should label the source and fishing method of their tuna products in particular more clearly, and should opt for “pole and line caught” tuna as it leads to virtually no “by catch” of species such as turtles, sharks and rays.
Retailers approached by the programme makers have been asked to accept the recommendations in the “constructive” spirit in which they are made.
Sainsbury’s is one of the largest fish retailers in the UK, selling £400m worth of fish every year from chiller cabinets and fresh counters. Its acquaculture and fisheries manager, Ally Dingwall, said: “Sainsbury’s is the largest UK retailer of [Marine Stewardship Council] certified sustainable fish and seafood products with over 80 products which carry the MSC ecolabel.
“We recognise that sometimes fishermen are bound by legislation which can result in unsustainable practices such as discarding of species in mixed fisheries for which there is no available landing quote.
“As a result, we are signatories to the WWF/Industry Alliance which is jointly seeking reforms to the troubled European Common Fisheries Policy to lay the basis for sustainable fisheries and a sustainable fishing industry.”
- North Sea fisheries madness (independent.co.uk)
- Oregon Dungeness Crab Fishery Becomes the First West Coast Crab Fishery to Earn MSC Certification (prweb.com)
- Leading article: Troubles as deep as the oceans lie ahead (independent.co.uk)