Investigation: Majority of UK caterers onboard with seafood sustainability

Published on
December 20, 2017

More than half of the United Kingdom’s largest contract caterers are doing a good job when it comes to supporting marine conservation through sustainable fish buying policies, according to a new study conducted by the Sustainable Fish Cities campaign. 

Its “Fishy Business” report reveals the findings of a recent survey that explored the actions of nine caterers and one ready meal supplier, chosen for their size and influence. These companies produce meals for the public and private sectors and operate in schools, hospitals, prisons, defense catering, sport venues and events, workplaces, and airports. Collectively, these businesses represent about 80 percent of the contract catering sector. 

The report said five of the businesses surveyed – Apetito, Westbury Street Holdings, Mitie, Delaware North, and Elior – performed very well, with just a few points separating them. All provided evidence that they had conducted full sustainability audits of their fish purchases, removed red-rated fish, taken steps to minimize sales of species considered “fish to eat only occasionally” and were increasingly serving fish certified as sustainable or considered “fish to eat” by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

These companies were followed by Compass UK & Ireland, Sodexo, Aramark and CH & Co.

The report highlighted that in contrast, ISS Catering did not complete the survey. As such, its scores were determined using publically available information.

“This is a disappointing and worrying finding, giving us little confidence that fish sustainability is being addressed effectively,” said Sustainable Fish Cities.

With roughly one in six meals eaten out of home in the United Kingdom, or more than 3.5 million meals per day, served by contract caterers and the investigation finding “wide variations” in how well companies are checking, sourcing and communicating sustainable fish, Sustainable Fish Cities is calling for all businesses in the sector to commit to and publish a robust sustainable fish buying policy.

Ruth Westcott, campaign coordinator for Sustainable Fish Cities, said that while some U.K. caterers were “doing very well indeed,” it was “completely unacceptable” that others had been found to be serving unsustainable fish or had not come clean on the sources of the fish that they buy.

“Being open about what fish is being bought is essential to assuring customers that they are behaving responsibly regarding our oceans,” she said. 

The caterers were scored on how well they fulfilled the following requirements: 

Gather information – i.e. audit fish buying and are aware of the sustainability ratings of fish served;

Avoid the worst – exclude fish considered “fish to avoid” (red-rated) by the MCS; 


Promote the best – serve certified sustainable or green-rated fish, and promote eco-labeled fish by having Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Chain of Custody certification;

Improve the rest – improve the sources of fish considered “ok to eat occasionally” and promote species identified as sustainable but underutilized ;

Publish a fish policy – this should set out specific actions that will achieve the above and the timescale for implementation;

Communicate sustainable fish – with staff, customers and clients;

Influence wider progress – by engaging in policy development and progressive campaigns, reducing plastic use, and (for international businesses) inspiring adoption of global sustainable fish policies.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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