New risk assessment tool launched for UK seafood buyers

Seafish, The U.K. seafood industry authority has launched a new free online tool that aims to reduce the confusion in the seafood supply chain caused by varying and conflicting advice contained within the numerous “fish to eat” and “fish to avoid” lists.

Unlike traditional seafood guides, Seafish’s Risk Assessment for Sourcing Seafood (RASS) does not provide any overall rating or score, neither does it advise “to buy” or “don’t buy.” Instead it provides seafood buyers and processors with information on the biological status of fish stocks for fish that are either landed or imported into the United Kingdom, and the environmental impacts of fisheries catching these stocks.

RASS provides risk scores, justified by evidence, using a five-tier grading system — very low, low, moderate, high and very high. Already 80 fishery profiles are contained on the system and this is expected to grow to 200 species by the end of this year.

Unveiling RASS at the Humber Seafood Summit 2014, held in Grimsby last week, Tom Pickerell, technical director at Seafish, said RASS is aimed at two different audiences: First, if a business already has seafood procurement rules, then the evidence utilized to generate risk scores can be used to determine whether the seafood in question meets that business’ requirements; or second, if a business does not have an internal seafood procurement system then it could use the risk scores directly — either case-by-case or to develop its own internal guidelines.

The rationale behind the scoring system is that many seafood buyers who use RASS will not have either the knowledge or the time to make sense of the qualitative fisheries and environmental information currently available.

“We do not make any statements of whether something is sustainable or responsible, there are many definitions of this and we don’t think creating another is going to help. The conclusion is that it’s up to you whether your purchase a particular seafood item or not based on your appetite for risk,” said Pickerell. “We tend to think of this as ‘reputational risk,” the higher the risk score is, the more chance a customer or an activist will ask questions about that particular fishery.”

Seafish also envisages that RASS will facilitate dialogue between the scientific community and industry, allowing prioritization of future research to address high-risk uncertainties.

In phase two of the project, which is now underway, Seafish is expanding the utility of the tool by providing information on social factors such as welfare and ethics, trade flows, as well as nutritional data, preparation guides and seasonality. It will also add aquaculture profiles to the system.


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