Co-operative commits funding for more sustainable UK fisheries

August 14, 2008

The Co-operative Group is pledging support to UK fisheries looking to pursue sustainability through Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
The food retailer is committing £200,000 over two years to support fisheries that might otherwise struggle to fund the MSC certification process, which allows them to be recognised as well managed and sustainable. Globally, there are only 30 fisheries certified to MSC standards, meaning that the supply of MSC fish is limited. To address this, The Co-operative will be working with the MSC and independent UK fisheries to fund the certification of new fisheries.

The MSC’s environmental standard ensures that products featuring the MSC logo are guaranteed to have come from certified sustainable fisheries. The standard allows sustainable fisheries to be recognised and gives an assurance to consumers about the source of the fish they buy. The funding will help regional fishing communities to maintain sustainably managed fisheries and, in the long term, will mean that Co-operative customers will benefit from a larger range of new, exclusively sourced sustainable fish products.

The Co-operative has increased its range of MSC certified fish to 10, including The Co-operative Alaskan Pollock Fishcakes, and a further 10 are due to appear in Co-operative stores. By working closely with its suppliers, and providing funding for more fisheries to be certified, the retailer’s range will include even more MSC products as soon as supply is increased and they become available.

The funding for UK fisheries is being announced as part of The Co-operative’s launch of a new Responsible Fish Sourcing Policy, which means that every own-brand fish or product that contains fish, including canned and sandwiches, has been rigorously checked to ensure it is responsibly sourced.

A detailed checklist has been developed by the food retailer, against which every product in the new range will be assessed to confirm that they are all sourced from responsibly fished or responsibly farmed sources. All Co-operative own-brand fish and fish products, from premium range Truly Irresistible ready meals to canned red salmon, will be sourced according to the Responsible Fish Sourcing Policy.

The policy takes into account environmental and ecological issues such as over-fishing, illegal fishing, bycatch, fishing methods that destroy the seabed, and the effect on other fish species, marine animals and birds. The system examines each product by fish species, looking at where and how it is caught to clearly identify which species must be avoided and those that are suitable to use. Those that have been identified as unsustainable have been de-listed.

The robust responsible sourcing programme also includes farmed fish. All farmed fish has to be sourced from farms working to agreed farm assurance standards which cover all aspects of fish farming, such as husbandry, veterinary care, farm location and feed.

The radically overhauled own-brand range includes 30 brand new fish lines, across fresh and frozen, including The Co-operative South African Hake Provencale and The Co-operative Lightly Dusted Haddock. The Responsible Sourcing Policy applies to fish in any form across the whole Co-operative brand, whether it’s a piece of cod or a salmon sandwich.

Debbie Robinson, Director of Food Retail Marketing at The Co-operative, said: “Earlier this year, a consultation with our members on our Food Ethical Policy indicated that animal welfare and the environment were key priorities, so we have responded by developing a responsibly sourced own-brand fish range. As a responsible retailer, we have to address the fact that dwindling stocks and poor fishing practices are real concerns. Our pledge to fund new UK fisheries through the MSC certification process demonstrates our support for the development of a sustainable UK fishing industry, and our commitment to providing new and exciting responsibly sourced fish products to our customers.”

Toby Middleton, UK Commercial Manager at the MSC, said: “We are delighted to celebrate the commitment that The Co-operative is making towards MSC certified sustainable seafood – it is an extraordinary contribution they are making to help transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis. Not only are they increasing the number of Co-operative seafood products bearing the MSC logo: by making this very significant funding available they are encouraging and supporting more fisheries into assessment. Their considerable and proactive programme of commitment will be greatly appreciated by their customers who are looking for an increasing range of sustainable seafood and by partnering with the MSC, they are making it easy for them to make that choice.”

David Ritter, Senior Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace UK, said: “The Co-operative’s new policies are set to place them right at the forefront of the sustainable seafood agenda in the UK. We welcome the work that The Co-operative is undertaking to source seafood responsibly.”

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Notes to Editors:

The majority of the new Co-operative fish products are in store now, but the full range will be in store in time for the start of Seafood Fortnight on 5 September 2008.


Fish status

The Co-operative’s Responsible Fish Sourcing Policy checklist ensures that no fish is stocked which is listed as critically endangered or endangered in the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List. In addition, The Co-operative will not select any fish from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) "Species to avoid" list, which are those fish that are considered most vulnerable to over-fishing or are fished using methods which cause damage to the environment. Examples on this list include swordfish, Atlantic halibut and shark. The Co-operative sells a selection of fish on the MCS "Fish to eat" list, which are fished within sustainable levels using methods which do not cause unacceptable damage to the environment.