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Friday, 19 July 2019

A Taste for Sustainability? APPG Event Explores Marketing and Certification for UK Seafood

Contact: All Party Parliamentary Group on Fisheries Secretariat

Parliamentarians and representatives from across the fisheries sector met in Westminster to discuss marketing of UK seafood. The Marketing and Certification event arranged by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fisheries discussed consumer preferences for sustainable products and how the seafood industry is responding, including via certification.

UK consumers bought 467,000 tonnes of seafood in 2017, with the ‘big five’ species (cod, tuna, haddock, salmon and prawns) making up the lion’s share. These British favourites are predominantly imported, yet demand for alternative species – many caught in UK waters – is steadily growing. This is in tandem with increasing demand for seafood that is certified as sustainable or caught following best practice. With so many factors affecting certification, consumption habits and retail trends, the APPG’s inter-industry event sparked great interest.

The event was chaired by Melanie Onn, MP for Great Grimsby and Co-Chair of the APPG. With strong connections to the seafood industry through Grimsby’s world-leading processors and fish markets, Onn frequently represents the fisheries sector in Parliament. A diverse panel were invited to offer their perspectives on how certification, seafood guides and business engagement can support sustainable seafood from sea to plate.

“Certification has a crucial role to play in safeguarding our seas and contributing to the health of the world's oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices,” says Erin Priddle, Programme Director for the UK and Ireland at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). She highlighted how certification can ensure traceability throughout the seafood supply chain.

The MSC is the most influential seafood certification body in the UK and worldwide, but attendees indicated that there is also room for a range of seafood certification approaches across the sector, including some better suited to encompass smaller-scale operators.

Cornwall Good Seafood Guide’s Matt Slater discussed how regional sustainable seafood guides can complement larger initiatives, but stressed that a lack of data makes compiling such guides difficult. He added that “[we] want to encourage more people to buy locally sourced fish from sustainable stocks, but one of the biggest current barriers to our work is the lack of published, high quality, scientific data to enable accurate assessments.”

Ruth Westcott of Sustainable Fish Cities echoed the sentiment, calling for more data to facilitate sustainable seafood in the UK. She stated that “data deficiency is one of the main reasons that much of the fish caught in UK waters isn’t judged to be sustainable.”

A packed room, filled with Parliamentarians, environmental NGOs, industry and retail representatives, certification experts and more, challenged presenters on affordability of certification schemes, highlighted concerns around consumer perceptions of seafood, and explored retail’s role in driving new, sustainable trends.

Key to this, the attendees suggested, is having a clear and consistent message about what sustainable produce is, so that the full spectrum of retailers, businesses and consumers have all the information they need when considering sustainable seafood.

The next APPG meeting will cover the social and economic sustainability of the UK fleet, and will take place in the Autumn. All involved in the industry are invited to attend. A detailed report, covering meeting outcomes and proposed routes to progress, will be available shortly via the APPG website – www.fisheriesappg.org – and newsletter (sign up athttps://www.fisheriesappg.org/contact).


ENDS

Notes to Editors

APPG Secretariat Contact

Please contact the secretariat for additional information, quotes and images.

About the APPG on Fisheries

The APPG on Fisheries is a neutral, cross-party forum for debate, discussion and learning within Parliament. The Group was founded by MPs and Peers who want to promote and support a sustainable and ambitious UK fishing industry, whilst exploring key questions for the future of fishing, processing, coastal communities and the marine environment.

About the marketing and certification event

The APPG on Fisheries event, ‘Marketing and Certification,’ was held in Westminster on Tuesday 16 July. The meeting, chaired by Melanie Onn MP, addressed the changing seafood market and how the UK seafood sector can effectively respond. Speakers from across the UK shared their insight into the challenges of marketing and certification and each outlined a number of ways forward.

Discussions covered the growing role of sustainability-based certification schemes and guides at a national and regional level, the evolution of marketing UK produce, and challenging consumer misconceptions.

A policy brief on event outcomes will be available following the meeting.

Further details

Speakers

      Erin Priddle (Marine Stewardship Council, Programme Director for UK & Ireland) – Erin discussed the MSC certification process, including their Fisheries Standard and Chain of Custody (which provides traceability through the seafood supply chain), and how MSC certification applies to UK fisheries and products.

      Matt Slater (Cornwall Good Seafood Guide, Seafood Sustainability Officer) – Matt covered the role of regional seafood guides recommending sustainable species and sellers, and how these can complement large-scale enterprises. He also talked about consumer attitudes to locally sourced and sustainable seafood.

      Ruth Westcott (Sustainable Fish Cities, Project Officer) – Ruth talked about the disjunct between UK supply and demand of sustainable seafood, and how this interacts with the economy of the UK fishing fleet and international trade. She also discussed the role of governance, business and certification in helping remedy this.

Interviews with speakers

Note that the interview statements below are attributable to the interviewees concerned, not to the APPG on Fisheries, nor its members.

Speaker: Erin Priddle, Marine Stewardship Council
What is the biggest challenge facing certification of seafood, and marketing to consumers?
“Certification has a crucial role to play in safeguarding our seas and contributing to the health of the world's oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices. By engaging in the Marine Stewardship Council's certification programme, retailers, buyers, and processors can be assured that seafood certified with the MSC ecolabel has been sourced from fisheries meeting our rigorous seafood sustainability standard. Consumers can also be confident that seafood carrying the MSC ‘blue tick’ is certified as sustainable.”
Going forwards, how would you like to see policymakers and those in the industry tackling these issues?
“Policymakers and industry are operating in a complex time, with unprecedented rates of change within the UK political and environmental landscape. Fisheries must be resilient in the face of change and policymakers and industry should work together to ensure fisheries can adapt to change, while at the same time operating within a robust and collaborative management framework. The MSC takes a collaborative approach to encourage the uptake of sustainable fisheries through certification. These principles can equally be applied to policymakers and industry to ensure they drive forward sustainable UK fisheries, together.”

Speaker: Matt Slater, Cornwall Good Seafood Guide
What is the biggest challenge facing certification of seafood, and marketing to consumers?
“Through the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide, Cornwall Wildlife Trust want to encourage more people to buy locally sourced fish from sustainable stocks, but one of the biggest current barriers to our work is the lack of published, high quality, scientific data to enable accurate assessments of local fish stocks.  Of 63 species of commercial importance landed to Cornish ports by Cornish fishermen we only have reliable, scientific stock assessments for 13 species. Our project aims to support small scale sustainable fishing operations but without this research it is impossible for a fair assessment to be made for many species. Of particular concern are stocks for turbot, lemon sole, John dory, scallops, ling, bream, and mullet all of which are completely unstudied in our area.”
Going forwards, how would you like to see policymakers and those in the industry tackling these issues?
“We would like to see more resources given to IFCAs (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities) and to fisheries science research partnerships to improve our understanding of this complex and changing production system.”

Speaker: Ruth Westcott, Sustainable Fish Cities
What is the biggest challenge facing certification of seafood, and marketing to consumers?
“The biggest challenges, as I see it, are twofold:

There isn’t enough verifiably sustainable fish available in the UK. Businesses (including the public sector and caterers serving over a billion meals per year) are signing up to sustainable fish standards and this means that some UK fish is off the menu including some scampi, scallops, plaice, cod, mackerel, herring, seabass, eel, gurnard, halibut, grey mullet, skates and rays, salmon, sole and whiting. The UK fishing industry is missing out on sales opportunities; we calculated at least £62 million for the catering sector alone – because it is not considered sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society or the Marine Stewardship Council so it is ‘blocked’ from menus. It also means that we’re spending taxpayer money on imported fish when we could be supporting local businesses – if only the local fisheries met sustainability standards.

Data deficiency and lack of monitoring of fisheries.

Data deficiency is one of the main reasons that much of the fish caught in UK waters isn’t judged to be sustainable. It is a barrier to effective management and to marketing opportunities for UK fish. According to government data the status of three of the UK’s fifteen main fish stocks is unknown. Scallops, England’s most valuable seafood species, does not have a full stock assessment. Nephrops – a species fundamental to fishing communities in Scotland and Northern Ireland including Fraserburgh, Mallaig, Ardglass, Peterhead and Kilkeel does not have formal stock assessments covering all areas, and there is not sufficient data on when and where boats are fishing to properly protect vulnerable habitats.”

Going forwards, how would you like to see policymakers and those in the industry tackling these issues?
“We have a few recommendations for policymakers:

1.     Set a date for all UK fisheries to be verifiably sustainable. We suggest five years. Some fisheries would require improvement projects and action plans for doing so and this will require investment from government. The investment would lead to higher catches and a competitive advantage for our fishers, so it’s a win-win.
2.     Eliminate data deficiency for all UK fisheries and set a date to do it – to give fisheries the best chance of effective management and marketing their catch as sustainable. This would include electronic monitoring systems (including CCTV) on all boats and fully recorded catches. We don’t accept the arguments that this would give UK boats a competitive disadvantage over foreign vessels. On the contrary, as our research has shown, more data would help our fishers out-compete others in the market
3.     Expand commitments to verifiably sustainable fish across all the public sector.

For the industry, our recommendations are simple:

Fish buyers must buy fish which is verifiably sustainable. We also need to see businesses be incredibly careful about the claims that them make about the sustainability of their seafood in order that we are telling the truth about the seriousness of the crisis in our oceans”