MSC suspension puts mackerel in unchartered waters

Published on
September 27, 2012

Its abundance and affordability makes mackerel a firm favorite with television chefs and food writers, who go to great lengths to encourage consumers to eat more of these oil-rich fish. But the suspension of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) status for North East Atlantic fisheries is testing the sourcing policies of some of Europe’s leading retailers.

The MSC suspended seven mackerel certifications at the end of March after the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands failed to establish agreed quotas for the 2012 season within the given scientific advice. The decision meant any mackerel caught after March 30 couldn’t bear the MSC eco-label.

While the move further fueled the long-running EU coastal state dispute over catch shares, the initial effects on consumer sales were negligible. However, the cat was thrown among the pigeons at the end of June when two major retailers, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Sainsbury’s, confirmed they would stop selling Scottish mackerel because it no longer bears the MSC mark.

Sainsbury’s Josephine Simmons says the retailer, which is the U.K.’s largest seller of MSC fish, will continue to work collaboratively to “only offer” customers fish from well-managed fisheries.

“In line with our own sustainable sourcing policies, we have taken the decision to stop sourcing mackerel from the affected fisheries pending an agreement between the parties involved which we believe is the only way to ensure sustainable supplies of mackerel into the future,” she says.

The loss of MSC status put both retailers in a tricky situation with regards to their own strict sourcing plans. For example, part of Sainsbury’s “20 by 20” sustainability program states that by 2020, all the fish it sells will be independently-certified as sustainable.

Nevertheless, other retailers have promised to stand by the product. Frank Green, Morrisons’ head of seafood trading, confirms the chain will continue to source Scottish mackerel.

“It’s a high profile issue, but we’ve not had any customer queries about the loss of MSC on the product. It’s the same product that we have bought for a number of years — now with the exception of the MSC label,” says Green.

Click here to read the full story which ran in the September issue of SeaFood Business >

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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