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Home > Feature Articles > Agriculture & Organic Production

Green Fisheries and Marine Stewardship Council

Fisheries in UK reach tipping point in marine sustainability eco-practices

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Britain's fishing industry is in line to become one of the greenest in the world, with a record number of fleets to be awarded coveted "eco-labels" for their catches of haddock, dover sole, herring and prawns.

At present, the only eco-labelled fisheries in British waters are small, niche industries catching seafood such as dover sole - one of the most threatened fish in British waters - langoustines and cockles, which currently account for just 4,580 tonnes each year.

The industry's drive towards environmental accreditation marks a profound shift in attitude after decades of open conflict with green campaigners over plunging fish stocks and illegal landings, particularly in the North Sea. It requires fisheries to agree to strict catch levels, protecting young and spawning stock, cutting the "by-catch" of non-target species and using only the correct fishing nets.

In parallel with the MSC programme, the Sea Fish Industry Authority has persuaded 437 UK trawlers - roughly 60% of the British fleet - to join a "responsible fishing" scheme similar to the red tractor quality mark used by farmers, although its environmental standards are weaker.

Trawlermen have come under intense pressure to take part in conservation schemes from companies such as Young's, the UK's largest seafood supplier, and supermarkets.

Currently, nearly all eco-labelled fish sold in the UK is shipped or flown into Britain from abroad, often from fisheries near Alaska, New Zealand and South Africa which have been criticised by Greenpeace. It accuses the MSC of being too lax, ignoring significant problems with "by-catch", where high volumes of other fish species are caught, and overlooking the damage caused by trawling on fragile seabeds.

Yet Robin Howes, chief executive of the MSC, said he believed the UK industry had reached a tipping point. He added: "I think sustainability has become part and parcel of the market. There's an awful lot of people in the industry who recognise the practices of the past aren't sustainable, and that that threatens their livelihoods."

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Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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