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Ethical Consumer: MCS Fish Sustainability Advice

by Ellen Hardy
05 September 2008, at 1:00am

UK - The Marine Conservation Society has called upon retailers to improve labelling in order to enable real consumer choice.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) today publishes its latest advice to consumers on fish sustainability, including those it recommends to "eat", and those to "avoid". The website fishonline (www.fishonline.org) gives advice for almost every variety of fish to be found on sale in the UK. A handy "MCS Pocket Good Fish Guide" is also available. Using this information, consumers can make a sustainable seafood choice at fish counters, restaurants and other outlets. However, MCS is concerned that inadequate labelling on many seafood products will still lead to some confusion amongst shoppers.

Sustainability of food supply is of huge public concern presently, but labelling of products at many retail points is simply not sufficient to give consumers an informed choice for fish and other seafood. While present EU legislation demands that retailers display various details on seafood being sold, MCS believes that labelling of processed products and at fresh fish counters, takeaways and restaurants remains poor and, in many cases, non-existent.

Marine Conservation Society Fisheries Officer Sam Wilding says, "Labelling of seafood sold in the UK is lacking detail, and as such is not fit for purpose. This is leading to confusion amongst consumers who really want to make the best sustainable seafood choice. It is vital that consumers are given better information to act upon if we are to reduce the tragedy of overfishing. Whilst we wait for fish sellers to help consumers make the right sustainable seafood choice, we advise that if consumers are not confident that their fish is sustainably sourced they should question their retailer closely for more information".

Cod is an example of why such labelling is important. With cod stocks at various levels of abundance in different regions, there are better and worse choices to make in terms of buying sustainably. Cod from the Northeast Arctic would be a better choice than cod from the North Sea for example. However without that information available on labels consumers are left confused and frustrated. MCS recommends that when faced with this situation, consumers should try different species that are considered a good sustainable choice. Great sustainable alternatives to cod include pouting (or bib), red or grey gurnard, and pollack.

Tom Aikens, Michelin starred chef and owner of Toms Kitchen and Toms Place said, "We have been sourcing sustainable seafood for three years and aim to offer our customers alternatives to overfished species. We now serve gurnard and pollack as alternatives to cod and they have proved popular with our patrons. Both these species are excellent alternatives to cod and can be prepared in the same way."

The Fishonline website provides information on over 150 species of seafood available to the UK consumer. Seafood given a rating of 1 is considered the "most sustainable" by MCS, as they are sourced from well managed, sustainable stocks using environment-friendly fishing or farming methods. Seafood given a rating of 5 is deemed "unsustainable", from poorly managed or depleted stocks, or using methods of fishing or farming that harm the marine ecosystem.

Ellen Hardy