Making sustainable seafood procurement happen

Background - 17 June, 2008

Seabass for sale at fishmonger.


Developing a timeline

Successful retailers have developed a step by step approach to developing a policy, with a clear timeline and goals for the development of the different elements of their policies and their application across their product ranges.

In parallel, making a full list of all products containing seafood that are currently being sold makes it possible for retailers to ask all the relevant suppliers to provide all the sourcing details on each seafood product they supply. A good quality policy should include all products containing seafood: fresh, frozen, marinated, smoked, tinned and bottled seafood; convenience or ‘ready’ meals; pet food; and health food products such as cod liver oil.

While developing their policies, retailers can already take action by removing species from their shelves that are found on the Greenpeace red lists for their country. For some of these species, there may be a few stocks remaining that are not yet overfished and that are caught with less destructive fishing practices, or that are farmed using more sustainable methods than commonly used. When sourcing these, retailers must be able to prove that these species are from the few more sustainable fisheries.

Engaging suppliers and developing supplier guidelines

The success of a good sustainable seafood policy rests on early engagement with key suppliers and clear communication of the policies that a retailer would like to develop. Suppliers who are interested in sustainability themselves are well-placed to be able to help retailers set realistic goals and timelines, and to provide data on alternative sources of seafood. Young’s Bluecrest, for example, one of the main suppliers to UK retailers, has developed its own sustainable seafood policy while assisting retailers in developing theirs.

For those suppliers who are less inclined to be involved in the process, providing clear and detailed codes of practice reduces the possibility of suppliers failing to meet the standards the retailer has set. Retailers should also make it clear what happens if the supplier does not live up to the new guidelines.

Seeking sustainable alternatives

Once retailers have defined what they regard as unsustainable seafood they usually start to look for sustainable alternatives. There is no simple advice on where to find alternatives as this will vary from country to country and from retailer to retailer.

Unfortunately, neither aquaculture nor wild seafood certification programmes are currently 100% reliable. There are numerous problems related to aquaculture certification in particular, and the Greenpeace recommendations should be taken into account when seeking sustainable aquaculture products.

Retailers who have been engaged with sustainable seafood issues for some time, are working with their suppliers to find new, perhaps less commonly sold, species and stocks. They are also supporting local fishermen who are using or developing more sustainable practices, wherever possible.