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What is a sustainable seafood procurement policy?

Background - 14 July, 2008
A good sustainable seafood procurement policy should contain a detailed definition of ‘sustainable’ for both wild-caught and farmed seafood. It should list the principles of how sustainable seafood is identified and purchased, and outline how this information is communicated to the public.

Cod in a fish market. Cod is seriously overfished in many parts of the world.


Definition of sustainable seafood

In simple terms, a particular seafood product is sustainable if it comes from a fishery whose practices can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the target species’ ability to maintain its population. In addition, it must not adversely impact any other species within the marine ecosystem by removing their food sources, accidentally killing them, or damaging their environment.

Traceability of products

Being able to trace seafood back to its origin is a precondition for sustainability – it is impossible to claim that a fish is caught legally and sustainably without knowing exactly where it comes from. To guarantee a sustainable seafood range, retailers need to know exactly which species they are sourcing – there is a wide variability in local and common names for seafood, so knowing the scientific or Latin species name is vital. Wild seafood should be traceable back to the boat that caught it to ensure that the correct stock and fishing method are known, and that the catch is legal. Farmed seafood should be traceable back to the farm and the particular aquaculture practices being used.

Principles of sustainable fish procurement

The principles of sustainable fish procurement outlined in a seafood policy determine what steps a retailer will take to implement a sustainable seafood policy, and should include goals and timelines. Key principles applied by many retailers working on this issue are ‘remove the worst, support the best and changes the rest.’ Principles like these determine, for example, whether a company simply enlarges the range of sustainable seafood products it sells, or if it removes unsustainable fish products as well. Other principles might include how to work with suppliers to source from the most sustainable fisheries, and how to contribute to improving seafood sustainability by working with other stakeholders such as governments, the fishing industry, environmental campaigning and conservation groups, and the scientific community.

Customer information and labelling

Clear customer information and fully labelled seafood products can make it easier for customers to choose sustainable products, and to avoid overfished species and those caught or farmed with destructive techniques. In most countries, regulations for seafood labelling are weak or non-existent, so retailers need to ensure that their seafood policies includes strong principles on labelling and other customer information. The minimum information that is required to judge the sustainability of a seafood product is:
- The common and scientific name of the species
- The fishing technique, or the aquaculture method used
- The fishing area (to stock level), or country of aquaculture (to farm level).