Schools’ fish purchases questioned in France


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
June 20, 2011

A new report from the non-governmental organization Bloom questions the seafood-purchasing behaviors of France’s school system, particularly the use of species that it says are harvested in an environmentally harmful manner.

“We were very surprised by the results,” Claire Nouvian, the report’s co-author, told SeafoodSource. 

Indeed, nearly half of the cities surveyed by Bloom serve “rock salmon,” a composite that includes several species of sharks, “some of which are in danger of extinction, such as the spiny dogfish,” said the report.

But Nouvian said there are already positive signals that criteria for procurement is changing since the study was conducted one year ago. Key suppliers to school canteens “are definitely progressing and drawing up species lists of fish to avoid and putting the lists into practice.”

According to the report, France’s three leading contract catering companies — Elior, Sodexo and Sogeres — cover 40 percent of the school market. Approximately 6 million children, from 6 to 18 years of age, eat a school lunch in France.

All three contract caterers say the report’s authors removed certain species from their purchase list, “in order to honor agreements made with the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace and to respect the red lists of endangered species. For example, “Sodexo applies a ban on bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), certain shark species sold as rock salmon, orange roughy and ling.”

The company is also keen to “apply a long-term policy to reduce and eventually cease Nile perch, Chilean salmon, cod from overfished populations, as well as all deep-sea fish, particularly grenadier and redfish.”

The study, which is based on questionnaires and telephone interviews with public authorities and contract caterers, looked at state pre-schools and elementary schools in France’s 30 largest cities and in the 20 districts of Paris. 

Essentially, three topics were discussed in each interview: the constraints that apply to school catering, the company’s sustainability policies and their supply channels. Twenty out of 50 questionnaires were completed for establishments feeding more than 196,000 pupils between 6 and 11 years of age.

Hoki, Alaska pollock and coley (saithe) are the most popular species, making up nearly 85 percent of the sample, found the report.

“We do have a problem with hoki,” emphasized Nouvian. “It’s a controversial fish, with controversial labeling. Only New Zealand hoki, and not that from Patagonia (Chile and Argentina), is MSC-certified.”

Bloom said of the total 4,000 metric tons of hoki imported into France in 2009, 2,600 metric tons ended up in school canteens. 

For the NGO, “certain factors cast doubt on the sustainability of this fishery.” Hoki are caught at depths between 200 and 800 meters using deep pelagic-trawl and bottom-trawl fishing techniques that damage the seabed, and the bycatch of mammals, seabirds and sharks are also abundant in this type of fishing, according to Bloom.

Finally, the report’s authors said, fishermen exploit the “vulnerable aggregations” formed by the fish during spawning periods. Fishing on aggregations is “condemned by scientists, as it allows fish concentrations to be fished in an economically viable manner to the last, leading to the collapse of the stock.”

Bloom has already noticed a change in procurement behavior, with companies “definitely starting to investigate the supply chain and to use the tools already out there.” The NGO hopes to encourage discussions at a state-level to bring about change in the country’s nationwide fish sourcing policy for the public sector.

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