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Responsible sourcing: behind the claim

Clear, consistent and harmonised labelling for claims of responsibility and sustainability on seafood products has never been more important. Whilst the EU has a legal framework on information that must be provided to consumers, additional voluntary agreements can play an important part in changing practices for the better.

The CMO (EU Regulation 1379/2013 on the Common Organisation of the Markets in fishery and aquaculture products) does not impose any legal obligations surrounding voluntary environmental claims – such as ‘responsibility’ – other than they be clear, unambiguous and verifiable.

The Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) came together in 2011 as a progressive partnership of UK businesses. SSC members, which account for around 75% of seafood sales at UK retail level, set out to identify and help solve environmental issues in relation to seafood. The first was to define what ‘sustainability’ and ‘responsibility’ mean, in order to provide clarity and consistency in the UK on voluntary claims for fish and seafood, filling a major gap in the law.

Over three years, we developed two voluntary codes of conduct on harmonised labelling and responsible sourcing for own-brand fish and seafood.

The SSC labelling code commits members to assure their customers that all voluntary environmental claims made in relation to their own-brand fish and seafood are consistent, clear and accurate. Under the SSC labelling code, responsibility refers to the steps taken by a business during the sourcing of own brand fish and seafood. Fish may carry claims of responsibility if it is sourced in line with the SSC code of conduct on environmentally friendly fish and seafood sourcing (the ‘sourcing code’).

The SSC sourcing code outlines general good practice in fish and seafood sourcing. This includes a risk assessment, which can be internal by using third party information, or by partnering with an external expert. Appropriate responses include improvements at the fishery or farm level, ultimately to maintain or work towards greater environmental sustainability.

An SSC member can therefore make a ‘responsibly sourced’ claim on a product sourced from a fishery or farm rated medium or high risk by themselves or third party rating schemes, provided the member aligns with the SSC Sourcing Code commitments.

Photo: Unsplash

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The Big Prawn Company

“We act with care, sourcing our seafood from farms and fisheries which are well-managed to ensure the long-term sustainable future of the fishery, its environment and, crucially, its community. It is really important to us that our customers don’t buy a premium for buying products that ‘give something back’. We believe that by working within the SSC guidelines, it will help us to be able to achieve our goals.”

The Big Prawn Company joined in February 2017.

It won the following awards:

2016 European Seafood Show Prix d’Elite – Finalist
2015 European Seafood Show Prix d’Elite – Winner Best Convenience product
2015 European Seafood Show Prix d’Elite – Winner Best Retail Packaging
2015 London Stock Exchange – Companies to Inspire Britain

Find out more on their website →

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How can seafood businesses find fishery improvement projects?

Seafood businesses aiming to source responsibly can struggle to find information on projects focusing on fishery sustainability.

The Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC), coordinated by ClientEarth, recently began collaborating with the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions. The alliance is one of the organisations behind a new website, FisheryProgress.org, which offers information on the progress of collaborative projects aiming to make the world’s fisheries more sustainable.

Overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices pose a threat to the health of our oceans, and the long-term existence of the fishing industry.

In recent years, fishers, businesses, governments and campaigners have been increasingly working together to tackle these challenges.

Globally, many collaborative initiatives – known as Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) – exist to use the private sector’s influence alongside governments and campaigners to address problems in a fishery.

However, information about them has been difficult to collect, and there was no common benchmark to measure their progress.

A new website seeks to change this by providing a central information base on the status of ongoing FIPs.

FisheryProgress.org will be a valuable resource to those interested in bringing about positive change in fishing practices. For instance, it will make tracking progress more efficient, consistent and reliable for businesses investing in fishery improvements as part of their responsible sourcing commitments.

Information sharing and joint engagement on FIPs is one of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition’s (SSC) key priorities. By allowing SSC member businesses to access information on the progress of active Fishery Improvement Projects, FisheryProgress.org will be a valuable tool to support the SSC’s collaborative efforts.

FisheryProgress.org is a partnership between the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, which connects North American conservation groups working with businesses on seafood sustainability, and FishChoice, an online sourcing tool connecting seafood buyers to suppliers of sustainable seafood products.

ClientEarth recently became a collaborator organisation with the Conservation Alliance.

When an FIP requests to be included in the site, FisheryProgress.org staff conduct an initial information review to confirm that it meets the Conservation Alliance’s guidelines, which serve as the foundation for the site. Staff also review FIPs’ progress reports once a year to ensure the information is accurate.

Learn more about the site at www.FisheryProgress.org, and the SSC at www.sustainableseafoodcoalition.org.

Photo: Katrinitsa

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‘Sustainability’ must be understood if Seafood Strategy is to work in Wales

The Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs has made some inaccurate and misleading claims concerning sustainable seafood.

At the launch of the Wales Seafood Strategy in Cardiff, the National Procurement Service pledged to serve only ‘verifiably sustainable fish’ across the public sector – a commitment we at ClientEarth fully encourage.

However, during Seafood Week, Lesley Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary, claimed that:

“With more than 75% of our coastline in Marine Conservation Area [sic] our seafood is, by its very nature, sustainably sourced. It is excellent news that the National Procurement Service has signed the pledge to ensure all fish used in the Public Sector in Wales is sustainably sourced.”

Yet this claim is inaccurate. ClientEarth Researcher Quentin Marchais said:

“Claiming that Welsh seafood is sustainably sourced because 75% of Welsh coastlines are protected is misleading. Marine protection and seafood sustainability can go hand in hand, but one does not necessarily result in the other.

“It would be great to see Wales committing to healthy and resilient seas through both properly managed, protected areas and responsible sourcing of seafood.”

As part of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC), UK businesses across the seafood supply chain developed minimum standards for responsible sourcing and environmental claims.

These provide clear and consistent meaning to sustainability claims on seafood sold in the UK. To claim seafood is sustainably sourced, SSC members ensure it is certified to a third party standard or equivalent. This would cover criteria such as stock health, bycatch, management practices and impacts on the environment.

Photo: Alex Brown

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Online petition ignores business commitments to sustainable seafood

An online petition saying seafood sellers’ claims might be misleading fails to capture the commitments of Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) businesses to harmonise their claims, and source responsibly.

SSC members, which account for three-quarters of UK seafood retailers, spent three years working on a common definition of sustainable and responsible sourcing. In 2014, they agreed minimum standards of good practice in two voluntary codes of conduct.

ClientEarth scientist and SSC coordinator Katie Miller said: “The petition and article mentioning it are inaccurate and don’t reflect SSC business commitments to more responsible seafood sourcing and clear, consistent labelling.”

Under the SSC responsible sourcing code, members like supermarkets, restaurants and their suppliers assess the sustainability of the fish they source to decide whether to buy it.

They also commit to engaging with fisheries or farms that need improvement and are rated ‘medium’ or ‘high’ risk. This harnesses the power of the supply chain to drive sustainability, rather than turning away from a ‘problem’ fishery or farm.

Under the SSC labelling code, a ‘responsibly sourced’ claim can be made if the fish is sourced in line with sourcing code commitments, including an assessment of risk and appropriate responses to these risks. Under this code, members also commit to providing sufficient assurance to support their claims, if requested.

An SSC member can therefore make a ‘responsibly sourced’ claim on a product sourced from a fishery or farm rated 3 by the Marine Conservation Society, provided it can justify its decision under the SSC Sourcing Code commitments. This includes engagement in any improvement projects, appropriate to their resources and influence.

Image: Nguyễn Linh
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school of fish swimming

Sustainable seafood lessons shared across the Atlantic

ClientEarth, in its role as Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) secretariat, is now formally collaborating with the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions. This will allows us to share lessons and experiences working towards sustainable seafood in the US and UK.

The Conservation Alliance connects environmental groups in North America with businesses to encourage commitments to sustainable seafood. Collaborator organisations work alongside Alliance members on specific projects, sharing a common goal of improving ocean health. These include helping businesses develop sustainable seafood policies, or supporting fishery improvement projects.

Non-profit organisation partnerships with businesses on seafood sustainability are well established in the United States. Many of these are led by Conservation Alliance members and collaborating organisations.

By officially collaborating with the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, we can now benefit from the active knowledge and information sharing platform the Alliance provides, and explore areas of common interest and collaboration. We will be sharing our experiences with Alliance members this summer, discussing the development of the SSC’s voluntary codes of conduct.

Katie Miller, ClientEarth Sustainable Seafood Project Lead, said:

“Becoming a collaborator with the Conservation Alliance is an exciting opportunity to share our successes in working with businesses in the UK.

“We are looking forward to learning from environmental groups in North America and discovering how we can work together for sustainable seafood solutions.”

The Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions is composed of 15 US and Canadian members, including Monterey Bay Aquarium, WWF-US, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, and Environmental Defense Fund. ClientEarth joins a collaborator cohort that includes the Environmental Justice Foundation, the Marine Stewardship Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Photo: Oliver Dodd
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webiste code

Coders for fish: get ready for Fishackathon

The Sustainable Seafood Coalition secretariat will join the creative minds behind this year’s U.S. State Department-led Fishackathon. In a world where mobile phones are ubiquitous, Fishackathon taps into the potential of mobile technology to tackle challenges to sustainable fisheries management. Its goal is no small one: in a mere 48 hours, computer programmers need to develop mobile applications that offer real solutions to problems identified by fishery experts. This year’s Fishackathon, to be held on 22-24 April, will span over 40 cities globally. The winning apps, selected by an expert judging panel, will get a chance to be used to help protect our oceans.

The global fishing industry faces a number of challenges. These range from accurate recording of catch information to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. Yet, investments in sophisticated technology can be costly. This is particularly true in developing countries, where small-scale fisheries account for half of the global fish catch for human consumption. This makes the potential of Fishackathon clear: with mobile phones bridging the digital divide more than any other technology, the applications developed can be used by fishers around the world.

Last year’s winners illustrate just how innovative such tools can be. Using the latest technology, team Fish-O-Tron from the UK developed a mobile app allowing fishers to do automated measurements of the fish they catch. By allowing quicker and more accurate catch information, their aim is to save time for fishers on board, and improve the reliability stock data collected by scientists. Harry Owen, of MCB Seafoods, an SSC member, provided fisheries expertise to the London teams last year, and will do so again in April. ‘Affordable technologies can make a big difference to those interested in keeping our fish stocks in good shape. Initiatives like Fishackathon have incredible potential to make it happen.’

You can find out more and help spread the word about Fishackathon on Twitter: @Fishackathon and #codeforfish.

Photo: Pixabay
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