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The U.K.’s largest supermarket chains and a major seafood supplier acknowledged a problem with fishmeal produced from illegal fishing practices, after a television program brought the issue to light.

In the 28 February episode of “Fish Fight: Save Our Seas’ program on U.K.’s Channel 4, CP Foods was accused of using fishmeal made from “trash fish” caught in protected Thai waters for its farmed prawns. The program identified Tesco, Morrisons and the Co-operative Group as CP’s major supermarket clients.

In statements provided to SeafoodSource, retail giant Tesco and CP Foods UK, a division of CP Foods Group in Thailand, acknowledged ongoing issues with using fishmeal made from “trash fish.” However, CP Foods clarified that it does not use fishmeal from illegal fishing.

“It is an industry-wide issue and we are looking at how best to tackle it,” said a Tesco spokesperson. To that end, the retail giant is working with its “largest prawn supplier” in Thailand on developing trials that limit the use of fishmeal. In addition, Tesco has set up a working group on fishmeal with other major U.K. supermarkets, according to the statement provided to SeafoodSource.

Morrisons’ executives acknowledged the problem with using “trash fish” in Thailand but the retailer does not plan to abandon its seafood suppliers in Thailand. “Last year, we began working with our suppliers to engage with the fisheries of our prawn-supplying countries. This will ensure that we can improve the local fisheries. We believe that it is better to work with the supply chain to resolve problems than to walk away, causing hardship to the many thousands of people who work in the industry,” Morrisons’ said in a statement.

The Morrisons’ statement also defended Thailand’s fishing practices. “In some Southeast Asian countries, the fishing industry does not discard unintentionally caught fish. The Thailand fishing industry keeps all of the fish caught, selects fish for customers, and then takes seafood to make the fish paste surimi. The remaining fish is then sold to make fishmeal. Because this fish is ‘unwanted’ by other buyers, it has attracted the name ‘trash fish,’” the statement said.

However, CP Foods does not support illegal fishing and does not use “trash fish”, according to the statement the supplier provided to SeafoodSource. “All CP prawn feed use only fishmeal from by-products of the surimi and canning industries,” the statement said.

In fact, CP Foods is helping to rectify this long-standing issue by working with the Thai Feedmill Association (TFA) and the Thailand Department of Fisheries (DOF). “We are aware that the TFA and DOF have now reached a conclusion to this work, which should be published imminently,” the statement said.

“The sustainability of the fishing industry, both in the U.K. and across the world, is of the utmost importance to The Co-operative Group. We are committed to providing our customers with responsibly-sourced fish, and are currently involved with a number of initiatives and projects to improve the sustainability of the industry and preserve marine ecosystems,” said a spokesperson for the Co-operative Group.

“We recognize that there are concerns with the environmental impact of aquaculture, and stipulate that suppliers ensure all wild-captured species used as fish feed are harvested responsibly from well-managed resources.  Once the issues with own-brand prawns supplied by CP Foods were identified, we began working with the supplier to rectify matters.  Only responsibly-sourced fish feed from accredited sources will be used for new supplies due in store from spring.”  

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