Co-op completes bycatch audit, sets priorities for change

Published on
April 15, 2022
U.K. convenience food retailer Co-op has undergone an independent audit of the risks posed to non-targeted ocean wildlife in the commercial fisheries that supply it with seafood.

U.K. convenience food retailer Co-op has undergone an independent audit of the risks posed to non-targeted ocean wildlife in the commercial fisheries that supply it with seafood.

The audit, conducted by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), included a review and risk assessment of the fisheries disclosed by Co-op in SFP’s Ocean Disclosure Project (ODP). The study examined threats to sharks and rays, seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles.

“Ensuring Co-op seafood is responsibly sourced is a priority and through our comprehensive Healthy Oceans Strategy, we are committed to protecting oceans, fish stocks, and livelihoods,” Co-op Fisheries and Aquaculture Manager Aisla Jones said. “Reducing bycatch of vulnerable species is a key part of that commitment and this first bycatch audit is a significant step towards understanding where species are at risk, and what we need to do to protect them. I’m pleased we are able to lead the way with this activity, helping to protect our oceans.”

According to SFP Global Markets Deputy Director Ian Rolmanis, Co-op’s commitment to addressing bycatch will increase the sustainability of its seafood offerings, and influence actions throughout its supply chain and with other retailers.

RSPB Bycatch Program Manager Rory Crawford said it was “very encouraging” to see supermarkets taking the issue of bycatch seriously.

“There are a host of solutions out there to solve this problem, and our hope is that this is the first step on a journey that brings about tangible changes on the water, resulting in many birds, marine mammals, sharks and rays, and turtles being saved from needless death,” he said.

While the primary purpose of the audit was to identify fisheries where there are bycatch risks, Co-op said it revealed the company has taken broad and proactive actions to promote healthy fisheries and protect marine biodiversity. In addition to identifying that the retailer’s tuna sourcing comes from fisheries with healthy stocks and that use techniques that have minimal bycatch or habitat impacts, the study determined very few fisheries it sourced from are causing significant threats to sea turtles or sharks and rays, and that its supply chain specifically avoids products from fisheries with high population-level impacts on sea turtles. Co-op does not source from purse-seine fisheries that use fish-aggregating devices (FADs), which can have negative impacts on these species. 

Additionally, Co-op’s Healthy Oceans Strategy mandates sourcing from fishery improvement projects (FIPs) and fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that have mechanisms in place to support solutions on bycatch issues.

However, the audit identified a number of fisheries where Co-op sources from as having high potential bycatch risk. A full list of these will be incorporated into its ODP profile, it said. Moving forward, it will prioritize action in the Alaska salmon set/drift gillnet fisheries, the Icelandic cod/haddock gillnet and longline fisheries, the Canadian and U.S. lobster fisheries, and the U.K. brown crab pot and trap fisheries, after finding that these posed the greatest bycatch threats.

Photo courtesy of Pompaem Gogh/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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