UK Seafood Industry Overview
There is a considerable variety - over 100 species - of seafood regularly available in the UK. A proportion of which is caught domestically, whilst still a significant amount is imported.
What is it?
There is no simple definition for "responsible" and "sustainable" sourcing. However, the UN defines "sustainable development" as..
development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
A sustainable fishery is unequivocally on in which fish stocks are being harvested by fishermen in such a way that ecosystem health and the marine environment are sustained at the same time.
Target fish populations are judged to be at healthy levels (this can be the case even if they are "recovering" from having been depleted in the past). Importantly, however, "responsible fishing" does not necessary confirm sustainability. Sustainability is the goal; responsible fishing is the behaviours and practices which can help achieve it.
There is no single definition of "responsible sourcing" and since in seafood there are many types of fishery, fish farm and fish species, the range of factors influencing what is "responsible" practise can vary greatly. However the term does usually imply that - at the very least - the fish is being sourced in a way which complies with minimum management or legal requirements.
Although definitions continue to evolve, the FAO CCFR is widely used as the global "handbook" to define "responsible" behaviours in wild fisheries.
Why is it important?
Because fish stocks and the environment are under pressure, we need to apply best practise to conserve and rebuild stocks for the future. Whilst some of Europe's previous stock management regimes have not worked well, science and understanding are improving and in general everyone in the supply chain is starting to work together to bring about change and improvement. This requires input from everyone in the seafood supply chain - from fishermen adapting their techniques to retailers and chefs marketing a broader range of seafood to help encourage consumers to accept less popular kinds of fish.
How can it be achieved?
The key to buying responsibly is to look for transparency and traceability so that you can be confident of the provenance both of the produce itself and of the supply chain that has brought it to market. Consider all the options - direct sale of wholesale, foodservice supplier, merchant or processor? Once you are sure you fully understand and have evidence of the seafood's provenance, you can decide which factors matter to you and your business and make informed and "responsible" choices accordingly.
The key to buying responsibly is to look for traceability and transparency so that you can be confident of the provenance both of the produce itself and of the supply chain that has brought it to market.
The UK seafood industry
In general, the standards in UK seafood are already high. Our fisheries management regimes are strong and many inshore areas already managed for environmental protection. There is also high levels of compliance and engagement in responsible fisheries management by fishermen. However, 80% of the seafood consumed in the UK is imported and most major seafood companies have developed efficient processes to identify and audit what is "responsible". Overall the UK already consumes the highest proportion of MSC certified product of any country in the world.
Risk Assessment for Sourcing Seafood (RASS)
Advice on ‘which fish to eat or avoid’ is currently available from many sources (notably from the NGO sector) allied with scoring systems. This advice can vary and be at differing levels of detail.
Varying or conflicting advice has created confusion for the supply chain and consumers alike. There is a need from seafood buyers for robust, up-to-date, and structured information on the environmental risks when sourcing seafood. Depending on a buyer’s needs this may encompass the risks to the health of a particular stock, or the risks associated with the wider environmental impacts of different fisheries.
The UK Seafish Industry Authority’s Risk Assessment for Sourcing Seafood (RASS) provides UK seafood buyers and processors with information on the biological status of fish stocks from which fish are either landed or imported into the UK, and the environmental impacts of fisheries catching these stocks. A key feature of RASS is that it presents risk scores for four themes:
- Stock status
- Stock management
- Habitat impact, and
- Bycatch impact (hereafter referred to as mechanisms).
Seafish developed the RASS scoring mechanisms and the online tool for disseminating information to key stakeholders. In addition to informing the UK seafood industry’s sourcing policies, Seafish envisage that RASS will facilitate dialogue between the scientific community and industry, allowing prioritisation of future research to address high-risk uncertainties.