Sustainable fish ‘undermined by confusing supermarket labelling’

The MCS’s survey gave the Co-operative and Marks & Spencer a gold rating for sourcing and promoting sustainable fish

Sustainable fishing : Cornish Fisherman Chris Bean catches a fish in his nets

Confusing labelling is undermining positive work done by supermarkets to promote sustainable fish, says the MCS. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Confusing and meaningless labelling is undermining much of the positive work supermarkets are are doing to source and promote sustainable fish, according to a new survey, which claims some retailers show «a blatant disregard» to where their products come from.

The greenest policies also often apply only to own-brand seafood and fish – not everything sold in store, including tinned and frozen fish – according to the latest supermarket seafood survey from the Marine Conservation Society, published on Monday.

The research sees the Co-operative and Marks & Spencer tying for the top spot, a gold rating, marking continued success for the Co-op, hailed by the MCS for «good» labelling and for selling nothing from the MCS «fish to avoid» list – which includes skate, eel and bluefin tuna.

M&S has the most comprehensive seafood policy of all retailers covering all fish sold in store, not just its own brand. But the MCS notes its labelling policy is still falling short, and needs improving.

Sainsbury’s and Waitrose picked up silver, behind M&S and the Co-op. However, none of the other eight supermarkets which took part in the survey reached the bronze criteria, while some retailers refused to take part in the research at all.

Scoring reasonably well were Morrisons, Tesco and Iceland, but they all failed to meet the bronze criteria set by MCS, as many sell either too much fish from the charity’s Fish to Avoid list.

The MCS, fisheries officer, David Parker said: «The 2011 survey has thrown up both positives and negatives. Some supermarkets are really working on their seafood polices with a positive attitude towards improvement – although most policies disappointingly only refer to their own brands. Many supermarkets are working hard on their farmed and wild caught fish sourcing. However, labelling continues to be a stumbling block for almost all retailers.»

The MCS’s complaints about labelling echo the findings of other research by Which? and environmental law group Client Earth.

Channel 4’s Fish Fight campaign of this year – led by the food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – highlighted the issue of sustainability, prompting a significant increase in sales of «alternative» species of fish and seafood at the end of January.

The Co-operative Ethical Consumerism report – due to published this Thursday – will show that last year, sales of fish from sustainable sources grew by 16.3%, from £178m to £207m. That was twice the rate for total fish sales which increased 8.2% in the same period.

Globally, 85% of fish stocks are fully fished or overfished, while only eight out 47 fish stocks in UK waters are currently in a healthy state.

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Date / Fecha: 12/12/11

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