Sales for 'sustainable' seafood soar, but is the problem shifting elsewhere?

Posted by jamie — 18 January 2011 at 5:28pm - Comments

It's been a good week for seafood sales. The Guardian reports that supermarkets have been doing brisk business in "sustainable seafood", particularly those featured in the various Big Fish Fight shows on Channel 4.

The story is full of percentile increases, but here are a few of the big ones:

  • In Sainsbury's, sales of pole and line caught tinned tuna are up 17 per cent compared with last week
  • Sainsbury's also recorded a 167 per cent increase in pollock
  • Tesco has seen an increase of 25 and 45 per cent for fresh sardines, coley, brown crab, sprats and whiting
  • Waitrose has seen overall seafood sales rise by 15 per cent
  • Marks & Spencer had its biggest ever week for fish, with sales up 25 per cent on the same time last year

Diversifying our appetite for different fish species is great and another boost to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's discards campaign which Greenpeace is supporting, but those last two bullet points illustrate how it's only part of the story. If overall demand for fish increases without addressing the underlying problems (indiscriminate fishing methods, bycatch, overfishing, bottom trawling and so on), then the issue doesn't go away, it just goes elsewhere. So it's terrific that sales of more sustainable tuna are up, but to make change out on the water we actually have to do something about the unsustainably caught tuna too.

So I'd hesitate to use 'sustainable' in the way the Guardian has in its headline, because creating demand for other species won't, in itself, stop cod stocks plummeting or sharks and turtles and other creatures being killed by nets and long lines. Professor Callum Roberts put it well in a column last week.

Of course, this increase in sales could just be the 'Delia effect' at work with a lot of sexy fish recipes on TV rather than a concerted effort by the British public to eat more responsibly – it will take many more sales reports before any long-term impact can be detected.

But despite my hesitancy to leap for joy, this is great news and demonstrates that the shows last week have made people think about fish and seafood in a different way. Long may it continue.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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