Thursday, 24 February 2011

Fish Delish

I don’t know about you, but BFTF loves a delish fish dish – Tuna, Trout, Mackerel, Cod, Sole, Sardines, Anchovies, Coley, Pilchards – they are all welcome in our kitchen!

But there is a problem.

The increasing global population, combined with the capabilities of modern industrial trawlers are resulting in the fishing industry being able to extract fish from the ocean at a much faster rate than the natural ecosystems can replace them. Because of this, many fish stocks around the world are in danger of being fished out of existence.

The classic example of what can happen is the case of the cod fisheries in the Canadian Grand Banks. In the 1860’s fishermen were landing some 150,000 tons of cod per year, which increased to around 270,000 tons per year by the 1950’s. The introduction of much larger bottom trawlers at this point resulted in catches increasing to some 800,000 tons by the late 1960’s – before collapsing to below 200,000 tons per year in the early 1970’s. The Canadian government then banned foreign vessels from the area and imposed quotas – but it was all too little too late. In 1992 the catch collapsed to less than 1% of previous levels. Belatedly, the Canadian government imposed a complete moratoriaum on fishing in the area – hoping that this would allow stocks to recover.

As of 2011, the cod have yet to return.

With 80% of fish stocks in European waters already fished beyond safe limits, the Grand Banks scenario is a real possibility for many areas in the EU, particularly as destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling have become more common.

Bottom trawling nets (which can be as wide as a rugby field) smash everything in their path – including plants and other life that live on the sea floor. Greenpeace reports that bottom trawling kills 16lb of other animals in order to produce 1lb of sellable fish.

In May 2007 the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation banned bottom trawling in the high seas areas it manages (accounting for about 25 percent of the global ocean), while the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission recently closed four seamounts and part of the mid-Atlantic ridge from all fishing. Despite this progress, the vast majority of international waters still remain unprotected.

And as European fish stocks decline, the trawlers are moving elsewhere – small fishermen on the eastern and western coasts of Africa are now finding that huge trawlers are decimating their once sustainably managed fish stocks.

Farmed fish may seem like a solution, but farmed fish need to be fed- and where do you think the fishmeal to feed them with comes from. . . .

So what can you do?

One small step that BFTF has taken is to try and only buy fish that has a blue “MSC“ logo on the pakckaging. “MCS” stands for Marine Conservation Society and their logo can only be used if the fishery and fishing vessels meet independently assessed standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability.

MCS certified fish has become increasingly easy to find in supermarkets, with MSC certified fish fingers and canned mackerel being the items that have caught the attention of BFTF.

BFTF has sent out emails to all the supermarkets it shops at regarding their fish products. Emails sent out are shown below in full, while the responses are described briefly :

Email sent to Sainsburys (MSC certified fish fingers, but not tinned mackerel):
“I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking fish fingers (and cod ones at that) that are MSC certified. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I note that neither Asda nor Tesco stock a similar product, so I don’t buy fish fingers from either of those two. Aldi do stock such an item – I’m afraid that I’ll have to spread my fish finger purchases between you both.
On the negative side, I’m afraid that as your tinned mackerel lines are not MSC certified, my sandwiches will be using mackerel from Asda or Tesco – sorry !”

Sainsburys responded by saying that they were, 'sorry that our tinned mackerel isn’t MSC certified' and then went on to mention that they were 'rated number one for responsible tuna sourcing by Greenpeace' and that they now stocked farmed salmon 'reared on RSPCA Freedom Food approved farms' where the 'salmon feeds do not contain any artificial colourants and only fish from well managed sources are included in the diet'. Perhaps most interestingly, they mentioned that "All of Sainsbury's fresh and frozen cod and haddock is line caught which significantly reduces bycatch'

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Email sent to Tescos (No MSC certified fish fingers, but do have MSC certified mackerel):
“I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified.
On a negative note, I’m afraid that my weekly fish finger purchases will be going to Sainsburys or Aldi as their fish finger products are MSC certified and yours aren’t– sorry !

The response from Tesco included a comment that Tesco "can see that we have not met your expectation regarding Tesco fish fingers, the points you have raised have been logged mad ref and forwarded to the relevant department for consideration"

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Asda (No MSC certified fish fingers, but do have MSC certified mackerel) were sent the following:
"I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified.
 On a negative note, I’m afraid that my weekly fish finger purchases will be going to Sainsburys or Aldi as their fish finger products are MSC certified and yours aren’t– sorry !"

Asda's reply included a comment that "It's always a pleasure to hear one of our products has hit the spot. We want you to enjoy everything you buy from us, so thank you for taking the time to tell us what you thought. We like to know we're getting things right." and then went on to say that they were sorry that they had lost custom due to some of their products not being MSc certified and that they had "passed your comments on to our buying team so they can look in to this further for you."

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Letter sent to Aldi (MSC certified fish fingers and MSC certified mackerel):
"I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel and also MSC certified fish fingers. This is something that Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys have not been able to achieve – so well done. You are my first port of call for these two products.
I also note that your household paper products (kitchen towels, tissues etc) are all FSC certified, so I occasionally purchase these.
Lastly, and on a more negative note, the books, printer paper etc that are sometimes sold as temporary products are never FSC certified so I do not purchase these.
Please keep up the (largely) good work"

The letter (!!) received from Aldi said thank you for the kind comments and that they would be forwarded to the buying department for their attention.

UPDATE : Jun 2012 Sadly, ALDI no longer stock MSC certified Fish Fingers, so BFTF has switched to Sainsburys, who do a lovely line of reasonably priced MSC certified fish fingers.
BFTF has also found their tinned MSC Mackerel in tomato sauce to have a sauce that is rather on the watery side,so has switched to the ASDA product - but that is something of a judgement call.


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Email sent to Birds Eye (“Forever Food” label) :
“Just wanted to let you know that I am nervous about your “Forever Food” label on your fish finger products as it is not an independent certification. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I have looked at the information on your website and note that you say that you work with the MSC, but I don’t see their label on you products. Until I do, I’m afraid that I’ll be buying the “own brand” MSC certified fish fingers from Aldi and Sainsburys. Sorry. "

The (slightly terse) response from Birds Eye commented that their sourcing criteria 'meet standards similar to the MSC regardless of whether the MSC logo is used or not.'

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Email sent to Youngs (“Fish for Life” label) :
“Just wanted to let you know that I am nervous about your “Fish for Life” label on your fish finger products as it is not an independent certification. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I have looked at the information on your website and note that you say that you work with the MSC, but I don’t see their label on you products. Until I do, I’m afraid that I’ll be buying the “own brand” MSC certified fish fingers from Aldi and Sainsburys. Sorry. "

No response received as of 21st March 2011

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Dear reader, BFTF would like to urge you to consider where you are spending your money when you buy fish products and to try and purchase products that are unsustainably sourced. You may disagree that MSC is the way forward – that is fair enough – but please don’t ignore the issue altogether .

It is worth mentioning again that organisations such as Greenpeace have told BFTF that sometimes it only takes a surprisingly few emails or letters to get a company to change their direction. So if you see a company or organisation behaving badly, why not nudge them in the right direction? And if you see someone doing the right thing, why not say "well done"

Further Information:
Wikipedia Article on the Grand Banks
Marine Stewardship Council
Marine Conservation Society list of publications
BBC News article on Bottom Trawling

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