UK retailer adds bycatch mitigation to seafood sourcing policy

Published on
February 17, 2021

U.K. supermarket chain Asda has made a commitment to help conserve endangered, threatened, and protected (ETP) marine species – such as sharks, turtles, seabirds, and dolphins – from being accidentally killed in the fisheries that supply it with seafood.

In particular, Asda said it has committed to address the problems of bycatch in tuna fisheries and avoid the sale of seafood caught in gillnets where possible.

The retailer’s new commitments include:

  • Adopting a procurement policy for all seafood products that requires that best practices are implemented to reduce harm to ETP species, and particularly mitigate bycatch. The specification will also require appropriate observer coverage (electronic or in-person) to be introduced over a meaningful timescale;
  • Adopting a presumption against sourcing seafood products caught with gillnets except under very limited circumstances. This measure is due to the very high risk to whales, dolphins and other ETP species presented by gillnets;
  • Supporting technological innovation in reducing accidental harm to ETP marine species;
  • For tuna, adopting strict requirements around catch technology, best practices in mitigation, observer coverage on boats, and the treatment of sharks. Asda is supporting requirements that observer coverage on all types of tuna vessels should be at least 20 percent within five years, with a goal of achieving 100 percent coverage in the long-term.

The commitments come in response to a review of the impact of Asda seafood sourcing on ETP marine species, published in September 2020, which found that some of the fisheries that supply it with seafood posed a potential risk to vulnerable marine wildlife.

Its response has been welcomed by three marine conservation charities: the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), BirdLife International, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. All three organizations have been working with Asda to reduce the number of bycatch deaths of the aforementioned vulnerable species.

SFP Chief Programs Officer Blake Lee-Harwood said Asda has “consistently demonstrated leadership in pioneering sustainable seafood” and protecting the marine environment.

“We hope that this initiative will be the first of many commitments by retailers and brands worldwide and that we see a step change in how the seafood sector addresses the impacts of fishing on marine wildlife. We look forward to a close collaboration with Asda to tackle these urgent challenges,” he said

Birdlife International’s Bycatch Program Manager Rory Crawford said that the state of threatened seabird populations, especially albatrosses, indicates that much more needs to be done to tackle the accidental capture of vulnerable species in fisheries.

“While we’ve seen progress in some fisheries but global efforts need to be substantially ramped up and supermarkets have a vital role to play in driving improvements. Asda’s engagement on bycatch is very welcome, and we hope they continue to push strongly for improvements to protect nature,” Crawford said.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Policy Manager Sarah Dolman said the collective looks forward to other retailers following Asda’s lead.

“Dolphin, porpoise, and whale bycatch is a welfare and conservation problem in many fisheries globally. We are delighted to work with Asda to improve source fisheries, so that consumers can be confident that the fish and shellfish in their shopping basket are not associated with harm to whales, dolphins, and porpoises. We are really looking forward to measurable reductions in the bycatch of protected species and urge other supermarkets to follow suit,” Dolman said.

Photo courtesy of Luis Santos/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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