Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Holy shrimp! This scampi happening!

"What I didn't know about fishing, fisheries and sustainable seafood" by Sea Champion Mary Sears

Cod and chips with mushy peas please," spoke the customer in front of me in the queue at the fish and chips takeaway, all the crispy golden batter coating the cod making my mouth water as I waited my turn in the queue on a Friday night. But just how much cod can one place really supply sustainably? For the past 4 months I have been an assistant online research volunteer for the Marine Conservation Society, looking into sustainable seafood and the multiple supermarkets, restaurants and fishmongers that sell seafood on their menus. Using the new 'Good-Fish guide' app on my smart phone, I wanted to write this blog, summarising my findings.

Before my interest in fisheries and sustainability evolved, I would head to my local supermarket or fishmonger without a thought in mind about whether to ask where the trout or snapper I was buying was sourced from, or how it was caught, because when you're uneducated, who cares? But, whilst in my first year of doing an Integrated Wildlife Conservation degree at UWE, I have widened my understanding and knowledge on the importance of sustainability and protecting ecosystems, especially our wonderful marine ecosystem.  The last FAO report (2014) indicated that in 2011 in total 28.8% of global assessed fish stocked were overfished; 61.3% are fully fished; and just 9.9% are under-fished (i.e. there is room for expansion), proving WHY it is so important to take seafood sustainability seriously.

One of my aims whilst researching different supermarkets and fishmongers was to test the knowledge of the workers preparing the fish, to see if they themselves knew whether the fish they're selling is sustainably sourced and if not, why not? Using the new MCS Good Fish Guide app, the first supermarket I visited was an ASDA store. Whilst nervous to talk to the people there at first, I realised I wanted to gather as much information as I could get about how seafood derived from the sea, gets to ASDA's ice counters! I spoke directly to the manager of the fish counter, who was happy for me to take photos of his fish on ice display and informed me that all the fish they supply is MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified - fantastic! However, there was no Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labelling in evidence, which seemed a little suspicious. Also, not all the fish they had on show, such as river cobbler and rainbow trout, were labelled with the method of which they were captured or whether they were farmed or not. When I asked the manager (who was extremely friendly) he said that ASDA stores were currently updating all their fish labels so that customers know exactly where and how their fish is being sourced. We’ll have to wait, see and hope that it actually happens as ASDA scored poorly in the recent MSC league table for certified seafood (

Previous to this research, I had watched Channel 4's 'Hughs Fish Fight' to learn about how he has been and still is, trying to change EU policies about fish stocks and fishing technology world wide, especially in LEDC’s such as the Philippines. In this fishing nation, Hugh has helped educate hundreds of fish farmers on how to be more sustainable.

Several of the fishmongers I visited had advertised, 'SUPPORTERS OF HUGH'S FISH FIGHT' on their windows, which I thought was great as SO many people who watch Channel 4 will have heard of the series. The fish manager in ASDA described to me how customers just want 'cheap fish' to feed their families at home, but they love knowing that by buying the sustainable fish ASDA supply (although inexpensive) they are supporting sustainable fisheries through their custom.   Each year, billions of unwanted fish and other animals - like dolphins, marine turtles, seabirds, sharks, and corals - die due to inefficient, illegal, and destructive fishing practices.

Capture methods clearly labelled on some of the fish were 'hook and line method' and 'pots and traps' which are listed as low impact and selective methods by the MCS, hoorah!

Handing out Pocket Good Fish Guides to friends and family
Whilst looking at different species in stores, I would have the 'Good-Fish Guide' app open on my phone and search the app for the species I was looking at in store, for example, European Lobster. I’d then compare the information on the labels in store with the information provided by the app. The app gives you a 'sustainability rating' as well as some background information on the species to help you understand any effects on the environment that the sourcing of a particular species has had. It was SO easy to do and I've recommended the app to a load of people I know who consume fish weekly, to help them make more informed decisions!

Whilst out and about visiting multiple supermarkets and fishmongers I learnt a lot about 'fish to avoid' and 'fish to eat'. Seafood is sold widely all over the world, but by using this app and making sure I read the labels of any seafood I buy, I now know how to make more sustainable decisions.

I work in a restaurant which sells cod, haddock, scampi and salmon, but on the menu there is NO information about where the fish is sourced or whether it is sustainable to consume or not; I personally will speak to my manager about making changes to this. Everybody has their own favourite restaurant and favourite place to eat, but if more restaurants and takeaways provided more information on the sustainability of the fish on their menu, it would make customers feel much happier about paying for a good, sustainable source that isn't harming the environment!

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