I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in retail sustainable seafood sourcing for the last ten years. Last week I attended two events that brought home how far we have come, yet how much has still to be done.
I was delighted to attend a celebration marking the tenth anniversary of ‘The End of the Line’ by Charles Clover. This publication described how overfishing was changing the world and what we eat, and was a seminal influence on retailers’ approach toward seafood sourcing.
Awareness of the crisis of fisheries management had already been growing, but this book was the catalyst that led to a sea change in how retailers implemented fish sourcing standards. The pioneering collaborative approach that delivered the sector wide change and resulted in UK retailers being recognised as global leaders in sustainable fish sourcing. Marks and Spencer was at the forefront of this, but recognition also has to be given to the rest of the UK grocery multiples.
However this acceptance of responsibility has yet to be seen globally. There is a desperate need for companies operating in less demanding markets to step up to the table and figure out their own approach to seafood sustainability. To recognise the commercial benefits of healthy fish stocks and well managed marine environments. We hope the M&S model provides inspiration but different regions and markets need to translate sustainability into their own language. I hope to see that soon as the need for pace is critical.
The other event was a parliamentary launch of Greenpeace and NUFTA (New Under Ten’s Fishermen’s Association) Coastal Champions’ campaign. This called for a “fresh and visionary approach to boost dwindling fish stocks, restore home-grown sustainable fishing businesses and breathe new life into our coastal communities”. The UK under ten meter fleet is primarily made up of small inshore day boats and their extremely limited access to quota often jeopardises their economic viability (77% of the UK fishing fleet have access to just 4% of the overall quota) threatening the survival of coastal communities.
However yet again it was hugely encouraging to see recognition of the huge progress that has been made through collaboration. UK retailers were singled out for praise, with M&S being specifically highlighted for our Forever Fish campaign and its contribution to marine conservation and fishing communities at home and abroad.
But there is always more to be done and the coastal champions’ campaign asks that the wide range of values provided by the small scale fishing sector be recognised and rewarded within EU policy. It asks for recognition of the wide range of benefits provided in terms of low impact fishing and socio-economic contribution. And to reward these values when redistributing quota, implementing conservation measures, and allocating fishing rights. This sector faces massive challenge in getting its voice heard in decision making and that needs to be acknowledged with measures put in place to achieve effective representation. If not, we risk losing the under-tens from our coastal waters which will lead to coastal communities facing an uncertain future.
The fastest way to move this agenda forward is through fishery based projects. M&S provided funding towards the Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Project, a ground-breaking initiative developed wit the Blue Marine Foundation to achieve a well-managed Marine National Park that will benefit fishermen and conservationists alike. The learnings from this project will be used to inform best practice fisheries management, so while the direct impact is small, the influence is significant.
It’s hard to describe my delight at turning up at the Lyme Bay Project Meetings to find fishermen, processors, IFCAs (inshore fishery conservation associations), the MMO (marine management organisation), and marine conservation organisations round the same table working together to solve problems and making commitments and concessions, all with a clear focus on conservation focussed fishing. That alone is an indication of the project’s success but I look forward to being able to report more specific achievements further down the line.
To steal a quote from Greenpeace: “a small amount of change will make a big difference to this sector”, I’m optimistic the tide has turned and we will start to see coastal areas where fish, fishermen and communities thrive again.