Greenpeace Greece oceans leaders Angela Lazou and Natalia Tsigaridou address journalists about seafood sustainability in the Greek supermarket sector.

For Greeks, fish can be a huge part of everyday life. It is an integral part of many Greeks’ diets, and few people here can imagine the summer without regular visits to fish taverns and many of us have a personal relationship with the fish sellers in our neighbourhoods.

The pattern of fish consumption has been changing in the past few years. The populations of fish in Greek waters has been steadily decreasing, therefore making seafood more and more expensive. Greek consumers are now having to to turn to cheaper, imported frozen fish sold in supermarkets. Sales of frozen fish in supermarkets are rising quickly- especially in recent years, making supermarket chains an important player in the Greek seafood market and a key step to ensuring that our oceans will be able to provide fish for future generations..

For the average Greek consumer, what lies behind seafood counters has been a mystery. Where does that fish fillet come from? How was that shrimp taken from the ocean? Not many people knew those answers, at least not until Greenpeace launched the ocean markets campaign in Greece yesterday. Many of the most popular species sold in supermarkets were “red-listed”: swordfish, cod, hake, red fish, salmon, prawns and sole. Red-listed seafood are species commonly found in supermarkets that are likely to have been sourced using destructive fishing methods- such as bottom trawling or species that are at risk of depletion due to overfishing. To make matters worse, most of the Greek supermarkets that Greenpeace contacted on their seafood procurement policies had none or very little information on the seafood that they sell.

Globally, Greenpeace is campaigning for a sustainable fishing industry and for a global network of marine reserves to cover 40% of our oceans. These two things will help us restore our oceans to health. If humankind is going to continue livin on Earth, we need living oceans: which provide us with oxygen, food and are key to our global economy.

If you’re a supermarket manager, having an international organization like Greenpeace ask you on your policy can be a real wake-up call. The 10 biggest supermarkets in Greece were asked to complete a detailed questionnaire on their seafood procurement policies and initially most of them reacted either by not reacting at all or by sending back a letter to Greenpeace stating that they have such policies in place and they can guarantee sustainable seafood. It took a number of phone calls, several meetings and quite a few months to make the supermarkets realize that we were more serious than just form letters and meaningless responses.

The companies that decided to work seriously on the issue began developing seafood procurement policies, with specific principles and criteria on what constitutes sustainability and on what basis seafood should be purchased. They also sat down with their producers to make sure that full traceability of seafood could be guaranteed.

One company was really swift on taking steps towards sustainability, as it decided to remove swordfish from its shelves. This company, My Market, is the highest ranked in the Greenpeace Greece supermarket ranking. Together with Lidl they are the only two companies graded orange, with the rest 8 companies in the red category. This may seem like a disappointing result, and it actually is to a certain degree. At the same time, the Greek supermarket sector is not all bad when it comes to seafood procurement. Apart from the 3 lowest-ranked companies, all all were willing to sit down with Greenpeace and discuss how they could improve seafood sustainability. Some moved fast and although there is still a long way to go until Greek supermarkets are full partners in defending our oceans, it seems that most retailers in Greece agree that sustainability is the way to go.

In the months to come, Greenpeace will continue to work closely with supermarkets to ensure sustainability of the seafood they sell. And, our work continues to create that network of marine reserves, to cover 40% of the sea worldwide. And, of course, the remaining 60% of the oceans should be taken care of in a responsible way. This is where supermarkets have a key role to play and we at Greenpeace Greece will continue to work to make that change happen.

Natalia Tsigaridou is an oceans campaigner based in the Athens office of Greenpeace Greece. She wants a global network of marine reserves to help restore our oceans to health and thinks you should sign our petition to help make it happen.