Selling responsible seafood – a top UK retailer’s perspective

Published on
October 20, 2015

Seafood is important to Morrison’s supermarket, which employs more than 1,000 craft trained fishmongers in stores, along with trained fish filleters at its Grimsby production facility. In the past couple of years, the retailer has taken both primary processing and value adding back in-house, and has put a firm focus on delivering a top quality, fresh product.

“Many people don’t realize that we are the second largest fresh food manufacturer in the U.K., if you take all food groups, and have 19 production facilities supplying our own stores,” explained Huw Thomas, Morrison’s Fisheries & Aquaculture Manager.

“Our challenge is to give customers complete confidence in our ability to source sustainable seafood, so that they can eat it with a clear conscience, and to sell it at a price point they perceive is acceptable relative to other proteins,” he said.

In a world where “sustainability” is in everyone’s lexicon, and more and more stocks are becoming certified or entering into improvement projects, this might seem to be a straightforward task, but Thomas admitted that it remains a constant challenge.

“We are moving away from calling foods sustainable or not and instead, are focusing on whether their production is responsible,” he explained.

“Sustainability is typically thought of as the applying to just the environmental footprint of food production, but we need to really focus on the triple bottom line of environmental, social and economic responsibility.”

He firmly believes that the value chain needs to be managed responsibly for future generations and explained that the FAO codes underpin Morrison’s responsible seafood sourcing policy.

“This means that for all the seafood we buy, I have to be able to trace it back to source, know how it was caught or farmed, and satisfy myself that bycatch and environmental impact has been minimized in the process. To do this, I look for credible certification, regularly check stock status and verify the legality and management of a farm or catch area,” he explained.

Sourcing certified seafood might appear to be a simple answer, but the number of certification schemes is growing, making it increasingly difficult to keep track of their robustness and credibility.

“Many existing schemes only focus on biomass and environment, but ignore the social and economic pillars of the FAO codes, and pressure group interest in championing their favored certification schemes can cloud decision making,” said Thomas.

The launch of the GSSI benchmarking tool this month should bring clarity to the complex world of seafood certification and Thomas explained that once the initial benchmarking process is complete, then Morrison’s will change its seafood sourcing policy to say “GSSI recognized certification schemes.”

“We will continue to encourage standard development and certification throughout our seafood supply chain where it is missing, and work with existing schemes to ensure that they include social aspects as well as processes for transitioning non-compliant sources,” he stated.

Morrison’s has worked in partnership with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) since 2012, firstly using the organization to help update the retailer’s seafood sourcing policy, then getting involved as a partner and stakeholder in Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) and roundtables for high risk, data deficient and non-assessed seafood sources.

“The world of seafood is not black and white, and FIPs and (Aquaculture Improvement Projects) are valuable tools in helping fisheries and aquaculture to make the transition from unacceptable to acceptable sources,” he said.

Thomas is also a keen supporter of the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme, which recently included crew welfare in its specification.

One of the biggest ongoing sourcing challenges is aquaculture, where myriad considerations have to be taken into account, such as antibiotic usage, GM ingredients, fish health and welfare, use of land animal and processed animal proteins, social impacts for employees and communities, and the current hot topic, use of marine ingredients.

“As well as the issue of feeding marine ingredients to farmed seafood, there are wider concerns over quality and handling of the catch at sea, fishermen’s health, safety and welfare and IUU fishing, and although a great deal of the industry has ‘cleaned up its act,’ we must remain vigilant to ensure our sources are never compromised,” he said.

In the not-too-distant future, Thomas believes that all seafood species sold in Morrisons will be rated as low or medium risk and have social elements embedded in their capture/farming, and he is proud that the considerable efforts being put in to achieve this will ensure that the retailer’s seafood will be good for the diet and for the planet.

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