New research has emerged finding that British shoppers are willing to pay an extra 22% for frozen cod and haddock that is labelled ‘line-caught’! Since 2010, Nofima, a food research institute, has been monitoring the weekly prices of 91 frozen cod, haddock and Alaska Pollock products in seven British supermarkets and through their price analysis they have been able to isolate and evaluate the different attributes displayed on the product packaging. The willingness of the consumer to pay more has been pegged to the better quality associated with ‘line-caught’ fish as well as the perception of being more sustainable and having a smaller environmental impact.
At the Sustainable Seafood Coalition we are greatly encouraged by the voluntary environmental labelling of the retailers and by the apparent interest of British in sustainable seafood products. However, we want to make certain that consumers are not misled and all labelling is harmonised, particularly since research such as this Nofima study shows that consumers are willing to pay more for products depending on how they are labelled.
The term ‘line-caught’ could refer to different fishing methods each of which varies in degree of environmental impact. For example, the fishing technique of long-lining consists of putting out a line that can be as long as 100km attached to which are shorter lines with hooks. In some fisheries, the baited hooks can indiscriminately catch seabirds, turtles, sharks as well as immature individuals of the targeted fish, yet in other fisheries long lines can be the most sustainable method. Conversely, pole and line fishing (often used for tuna fishing) is a hooked line attached to a pole and uses various methods to attract the fish, including throwing bait and/or spraying water (giving the illusion that the water surface is alive with small fish) to attract the targeted fish species. Pole and line fishing can be more selective (catching less bycatch) than the long-line method. Additionally, the survival of fish released after being accidentally caught by pole and line can be higher due to the use of barbless hooks shortening the amount of time a fish is hooked. So, fish caught by pole and line fishing or long-line fishing may both be labelled as ‘line caught’ but given the differences of the gears and potential impacts on other marine species and the environment, it may not be helpful to use such an ambiguous term.
The SSC is striving to make all seafood labelling precise, understandable and usable for the consumer. We are working hard to harmonize voluntary environmental labelling industry-wide to achieve higher standards of clarity and transparency, including improving and harmonising voluntary labelling of fishing methods (such as ‘line caught’). We are focusing on this issue directly with our work on our highly anticipated Code of Conduct on Environmental Labelling and Self-Declared Environmental Claims.