Retailers condemned for inadequate labelling as seafood guide is launched
May 05 2011 Lewis Smith
Food labels offer consumers far too little information on where or how the fish they buy are caught, a leading marine conservation organisation has warned.
The lack of detail on labels means consumers are unable to make a properly informed decision on which fish they can buy and eat with a clear conscience, said Richard Harrington of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
He condemned inadequate labelling as the MCS released its 2011 guide to which fish can be eaten without damaging stocks and which should be left in the sea because of overfishing and other environmental problems.
"Many retailers are toeing the line that EU legislation demands of them but this simply isn’t sufficient to give the consumer enough knowledge to make the right choice," he said.
"Consumer labelling just isn’t detailed enough in a large number of cases for the consumer to be make a sustainable choice."
The catch method, such as whether fish are caught using the pole and line technique or purse seine nets with fish aggregation devices, can make a huge difference to the sustainability of seafood stocks.
Similarly, the region of the sea that they are caught in makes a difference because, depending on factors such as the nature of fishery management, stocks of a species can be healthy or struggling.
Atlantic cod is recognised by the MCS guide as being among the most improved species, lifting it out of the list of fish the MCS considers should always be avoided. Consumers wanting to eat it, however, still need to take care of which fishery it comes from.
Better management of the Baltic Sea has been largely responsible for the improvements. Cod from the eastern Baltic are now considered to be numerous enough to be eaten without worrying about damaging the stocks while in the west it is no longer on the fish to avoid list.
"It was a very dodgy fishery with loads of illegal landings," said David Parker of the MCS. "The management was poor and the fishery was going downhill. A lot of producer organisations got together and said no to illegal fishing. The eastern Baltic is now within healthy limits and the west is pretty close."
Stocks in the North Sea have improved but Mr Parker estimates it will take at least another two years of careful management before cod can again be considered to be at healthy levels.
Cod in the North East Arctic, managed by Iceland and Norway, is safe to eat but stocks off Greenland, the Norwegian coast, parts of the Faroes and in UK waters are still on the fish to avoid list.
Haddock in the Scottish North Sea is regarded as another improved species. It was classified as an amber-rated fish – can be eaten but still with serious concerns about some stocks – but has moved up to green, putting it on the fish to eat list. Improvements in fishery management, such as ensuring bycatch levels fell, were cited.
And in the Bay of Biscay the anchovy fishery re-opened this year after five years of closure. Stock levels have risen sufficiently for it to be rated as amber rather than red.
A species that has slipped into red, making it a fish to avoid, is Dover sole when it is caught by beam trawlers operating in the Western Channel, off South West Ireland and in the Irish Sea. The trawling nets drag along the bottom destroying the seabed habitat, which the MCS regards as unacceptable. It is also condemned for high bycatch levels.
In contrast, Dover sole caught in the Celtic Sea, the eastern Channel and in the Bay of Biscay by otter trawls and gillnets are on the fish to eat list.
The Good Fish Guide classes fish as red, which means they should be avoided, amber, which means they can be eaten but there are still serious concerns for stocks, and green, which means they are on the fish to eat list. Each species is given an average score of one to five, one and two being green, three and four being amber and five being red. More detail is also available to enable a consumer to buy or reject a fish based on the region of the seas they come from.
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