Is it a scam involving scampi? British retailers under fire for making deceptive statements about their environmental impact.
Campaigners have accused British retailers and seafood companies of being deceptive in their labeling of “responsibly sourced” scampi or langoustines. They claim that a five-year initiative to reduce the environmental impact of the £68m industry is not achieving its goals.
The aforementioned companies, such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose, Young’s, and Whitby Seafoods (the leading provider of breaded scampi to UK eateries and fish shops), are all involved in a fishery improvement project (FIP) with the goal of promoting sustainability in the UK langoustine industry.
According to Open Seas, a Scottish charity, the project is on the verge of failure and will not reach its goals by its end date in April 2024.
Langoustines, also called Nephrops norvegicus, are a species of small, coral-colored lobsters found in burrows on muddy ocean floors in the North Sea and northeastern Atlantic. They are primarily caught through a harmful fishing method known as bottom-trawling, which involves dragging heavy, small-mesh nets along the ocean floor.
Their succulent tails are highly valued and commonly sold as scampi, a common item in UK supermarkets. The tails are typically coated in breadcrumbs and may be combined with other types of fish.
According to Open Seas’ report on the UK’s langoustine industry, the FIP (Fishery Improvement Project) has not been successful in making any tangible improvements. The industry continues to pose a significant danger to endangered, threatened, and protected species such as sharks and rays, many of which are in danger of disappearing completely. The report also highlights the large amount of “bycatch,” or unintentionally caught non-target species, that are killed during fishing and subsequently thrown away.
The article states that numerous boats catching langoustines are not being monitored, which can lead to potential harm to delicate and safeguarded ocean floors.
The organization Seafish, which collaborates with the UK industry, denies allegations that the fishery results in significant bycatch. They argue that in the nephrops “mixed” fishery, 80% of the catch is actually commercially valuable and should not be classified as bycatch.
According to Nick Underdown, who leads campaigns for Open Seas, grocery stores and food businesses in the UK are deceiving their customers by creating the illusion of being sustainable and responsible. In reality, they have not taken significant actions to support these claims about the environment.
He stated that it is unacceptable for retailers to refer to never-ending “improvement projects” that do not actually bring about any positive changes for the oceans.
He urged retailers to refrain from selling scampi until certain sustainability standards are met. These include ensuring that all fishing boats are closely monitored, bycatch is documented and minimized, and that boats avoid areas where fish reproduce and grow.
Fishery Progress, an independent evaluator of the FIP, reported that 91% of tasks are still unfinished and has recently downgraded its rating from an A to a C.
After reviewing Open Seas’ discoveries, the Marine Stewardship Council recognized that the Nephrops FIP, which they oversee, had not met its targets for a number of actions. However, they also noted that progress had been made.
The progress of actions has been delayed due to the uncertainty in politics and legislation caused by Brexit, according to the statement.
These include management plans to determine the future sustainability of the industry and the rollout by the Scottish government of a requirement for vessels to carry remote vehicle monitoring systems to track and record the industry’s environmental footprint.
Lisa Bennett, the senior manager for fisheries outreach at MSC UK & Ireland, acknowledged that striving for sustainable fishing practices can be challenging and time-consuming. However, the ongoing FIP has resulted in significant improvements and will continue to do so as the custodians of the leading standard on sustainable fishing.
We acknowledge that many of the tasks in the FIP are not meeting their goals, but we are dedicated to helping UK fisheries make the necessary changes to enhance and prove their sustainability.
Upon being contacted regarding the report, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and Tesco directed the Guardian to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), while Young’s referred them to the Marine Stewardship Council.
A representative from Waitrose stated that they prioritize responsible sourcing and take these concerns seriously. They are currently collaborating with the fishery to address any unresolved issues and exploring other available options.
A representative from Whitby Seafoods, who is also the chair of FIP, stated: “The FIP’s suggestions will tackle the concerns of Open Seas and bring about additional improvements. We urge the government to take action and put them into effect.”
Our actions speak for themselves and we vehemently deny any insinuation that we have deceived people regarding our dedication to this significant matter.
Sophie De Salis, sustainability policy adviser at the BRC, said UK retailers were “dedicated to sourcing seafood products sustainably”.
She stated, “Our members collaborate with stakeholders and suppliers to consistently assess fishing methods within supply chains to ensure they align with the highest standards. They are actively promoting and implementing improvements to bring about the required change.”
The Scottish government representative stated that the Nephrops FIP’s progress has been affected by both Brexit and the pandemic, which have caused a significant amount of uncertainty over the years. They also mentioned their ongoing involvement with this project, which is led by the industry.