Fish is very important to M&S. We sell about 60,000 tonnes of seafood annually with approximately two thirds wild caught and the remainder farmed. We are strong supporters of the UK fishing industry and have a high dependency on haddock, mackerel, herring, langoustine and brown crab, all sourced from Scotland.
Our business depends on a sustainable Scottish seafood sector. This is why I agreed to speak at an event organised by WWF on the Discard Ban in the Scottish Parliament in November. It was an honour to share a platform with Richard Lochhead MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment, and Mike Park, Chief Executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, and to be given the opportunity to present an M&S perspective on this issue.
Elements of the Discard Ban will be difficult to interpret and implement, for fishermen and politicians alike. The regulation requires new technology and new approaches, and making it fit within existing quota management frameworks will be challenging. My aim was to make sure politicians and the fishing sector understood the relevance and importance of good fisheries management to M&S business and our customers. To send out a clear signal that the Discard Ban is worth the effort, and that the effort is appreciated by buyers in our business and customers in our stores.
M&S has a long heritage in supporting sustainable fishing and protecting the marine environment. Our Forever Fish programme invested over two million pounds in marine conservation over the last 5 years, covering a range of projects such as turtle conservation in Fiji, sustainable coastal livelihoods in the Indian Ocean, stakeholder engagement in the Celtic Sea, and the annual Beach Clean programme run the by the Marine Conservation Society (http://corporate.marksandspencer.com/plan-a/our-stories/about-our-initiatives/forever-fish
M&S fisheries and aquaculture manager, Hannah Macintyre, makes sure that all the fish we sell is sustainably sourced, visiting fisheries and engaging with regulators, fishermen and civil society. WWF independently assess all the species we sell and M&S suppliers participate in Fishery Improvement Projects to move fisheries towards sustainable practices and in the long term achieve Marine Stewardship Council certification. We provide financial support for programmes run by the Blue Marine Foundation that achieve conservation outcomes while providing economic benefit for small UK fishing communities.
Of course everyone in our industry wants ALL commercial fisheries to be well managed. We know the critical role Regulation plays in achieving this, whether in distant waters for migratory species like tuna or for UK favourites like cod and haddock fished in our own waters.
The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the process for managing fisheries in the European Union (EU). It sets quotas for which member states are allowed to catch what amounts of each type of fish, as well as encouraging the fishing industry by various market interventions.
The CFP was recently reformed with implementation of the changes beginning in January 2014. Part of this reform included a commitment to deal with the high level of fish discards taking place on fishing vessels, to stop fishermen throwing dead fish back into the sea. This will protect fish stocks, an obvious priority, but it will also allow regulators to better understand the real impact of fishing effort. It will allow quotas to be based on what is actually being caught rather than just the fish that are landed.
This led to the introduction of the Landing Obligation that requires fishermen to land all the fish they catch. Commonly known as the Discard Ban, this is being phased in from January 2015, with the obligation applying to all fisheries managed by quotas by 2019.
There are two outcomes M&S hopes will be achieved through the Discard Ban. Having healthy fish stocks to fill our shelves is a commercial objective, but we also need to be confident in the integrity of what happens on vessels at sea. So it is critical that the fishing industry implementation of the Ban is robust and reliable.
I’ve learned from long experience in business that any industry is only as strong as its weakest link. The horsemeat scandal brought this to the fore and although M&S was delighted to be able to prove that our products contained only what it said on the label, it undermined trust in the food industry as a whole.
The fishing industries’ reputation has suffered from high profile campaigns such as Hugh’s Fish Fight, which alerted the public to the issue of discards and placed it firmly on the political agenda.
The industry’s response to the Discard Ban is an opportunity to show that as a sector they can deal with difficult and complex issues responsibly. It’s difficult for government to monitor what goes on at sea, so alongside enforcement there needs to be a self-regulation and peer pressure to comprehensively de-legitimise illegal activity. This regulation needs to be seen as part of a long-term plan to achieve healthy fish stocks and a resilient fishing sector. To prove this industry can be trusted.
But all the responsibility cannot lie with individual fishermen. We have to increase their capacity to respond to this legislation. Provide them with the tools and skills and access to best practice information on fishery activity and gear opportunities.
We must help them build continual improvement and adaptive approaches into the way they fish. Help them deal with new technology, documentation and data requirements – the nuts and bolts of compliance.
Many are already doing this, some vessels have incredibly sophisticated systems and highly competent personnel, but we must not marginalise those behind the technological curve. It’s to all our benefit to have a diverse fishing fleet, with small coastal communities in particular depending on this sector. Government and industry must support those looking for help, while excluding those who can only cope with ‘business as usual’ and show no willingness to change.
I’ve been involved with the development of sustainable seafood policies for over a decade, and having closely followed the fundamental change that has taken place in this industry over this period I have great confidence that the majority of fishermen will embrace this Regulation and that our seas and society will benefit as a result. The highlight of this event was seeing politicians, fishermen and the market speaking on the same platform with one voice. Acknowledging there will be hurdles ahead and that change will take time, but sharing a willingness to face into challenges and by doing so build a stronger fishing industry.
M&S needs well-managed fisheries to give us confidence to invest in our seafood business. Our customers expect our suppliers to act responsibly on their behalf. The Discard Ban is a major step forward in achieving these objectives and I congratulate the fishing sector for the way they have embraced change. Through their individual and collaborative action a vision of plentiful fish stocks and a healthy marine environment is becoming closer and clearer.
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