Seafish beefs up RFS, plans international rollout

Published on
July 14, 2014

Seafish, the U.K. seafood authority, expects to launch its fully updated Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) next summer after embarking on a comprehensive remodeling process, supported by key players from both the retail and foodservice sectors.

Originally introduced in 2006 so that supply chains could demonstrate they were buying from vessels that were adhering to best practice, the RFS currently has around 400 U.K. fishing vessels certified to the B2B scheme with a further 620 engaged in the process.

Despite a strong take-up by the fishing industry, it recently came close to being scrapped with the feeling within Seafish that the scheme “had lost its way” and was “perhaps not fit for purpose,” revealed Paul Williams, Seafish CEO. However, lengthy discussions with the seafood industry confirmed there was value in acknowledging individual vessels that were “taking responsibility for their behavior” through such a certification program, he said.

A subsequent review process, that began in 2012 and ran through to October 2013, concluded that modifications to the RFS would be beneficial. Particular areas that stakeholders felt needed strengthening were marketing, vessel auditing and social and ethical impacts. A request also came from retailers to look at rolling out the scheme on an international level.

To better reflect the industry, the RFS will be upgraded to international ISO standards. At the same time, the scheme will become Seafish’s own standard and will also include chain of custody for quality as well as traceability.

U.K. retailer Morrisons is very much behind the overhaul. Along with its competitors, the supermarket chain began sourcing from the scheme “where available” in 2009. Three years later, upon reviewing its buying policy, it came to the conclusion that RFS was “the best opportunity” for fishing vessels to demonstrate good practice and for others to show improvement. It subsequently announced a commitment to only buy U.K. landed fish from vessels registered to the program that will come into effect on 31 October this year, explained Huw Thomas, fisheries and aquaculture manager for the company,

“We are now waiting for the new RFS standard to be ratified and adopted by other U.K. users and then the next big step for us is to see it taken internationally. We have already started engaging industry groups around the world,” said Thomas.

By 2020, Morrisons wants to have every vessel in its global supply chain certified to RFS standards or equivalent, he said, adding that the level of interest in RFS from overseas partners has taken a noticeable upturn in the wake of the recent stories about slavery in the Thai shrimp feed industry.

Meanwhile, fresh and frozen fish supplier M&J Seafood, which has been involved with the RFS since its launch eight years ago, wants to see Seafish put a strong marketing drive behind the revised scheme.

Of the 100 vessels that land directly to the company, 45 boats are registered in the program and M&J wants many more to sign up, said Mike Berthet, purchasing director. The company has also initiated its own coastal fish scheme, called “Skipper’s Catch,” to help drive the RFS tonnage up, he said.

“We are forever having discussions with fishermen who don’t understand the importance of signing up to the scheme and that falls at the door of Seafish,” he said. “We have to market this properly to all stakeholders when we launch it.”

Berthet pointed out that while programs like Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) drive sustainability, they have nothing to do with underwriting quality, which is “a big, big opportunity for RFS,” as is the growing U.K. demand for local products.

“In the last six or seven years, the foodservice sector has seen a big step change. There has been a huge reduction in the amount of exotic species. Yes, we still have tuna and some snapper, but there has been a big swing in favor of British fish,” he said. “If we can get RFS [written] onto menus, that will drive behavior, it will drive change and that will help us spread the RFS word.”

In the coming weeks and months, Seafish will appoint a certification body to manage the scheme and undertake audits, said Tom Pickerell, technical director at Seafish. It will also commence the ISO 17065 upgrade of the RFS standard with a view to launching in June or July 2015.

Meanwhile, Williams revealed that ethics is to play a much stronger role in the new corporate direction of Seafish.

“Our mission statement, as it stands at present, is that Seafish is there to support a sustainable and profitable U.K. industry, but that is going to change to ‘sustainable profitable and equitable.’ It’s a small word but it’s a huge indication of what our industry sees as the next area of concern that we really have to address.

“We are getting questions about the integrity of products, of the welfare of the workforces in the supply chains and these are questions that Seafish is taking very seriously. The RFS is one way forward that we see that we can help put standards in place in our industry,” he said.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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