Sustainable Seafood Coalition

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The Sustainable Seafood Coalition is a unique, UK partnership of seafood businesses and other relevant organisations leading the way for sustainable seafood, ahead of legislation.

Fish Fight River Cottage Bristish Retail Consortium Youngs
National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF) Direct Seafoods M&J Seafood Morrisons
Sustainable Restaurant Association Thistle Seafoods Food and Drink Federation Sainsbury's
Tom Hunt’s Forgotten Feast and Poco Le Lien LTD The Co-operative LTD Waitrose
Feng Sushi Tesco Marks and Spencer ClientEarth
Harbour Lights Lyons Seafood Birds Eye UK
Loch Fyne Restaurants New England Seafood he Saucy Fish Co. / Icelandic Group UK Ltd  

The problem

EU fish stocks are overfished - 80 per cent of fish stocks in the Mediterranean & Black seas, and 47 per cent of those in the Atlantic and nearby seas, according to the European Commission. This compares to almost thirty per cent globally[1]. Additionally, as highlighted by the Fish Fight season on Channel 4 in January 2011, many delicious, high quality fish and shellfish being caught around the UK are thrown away (or discarded), with over half discarded because they have no market. Fish Fight and retailer campaigns have made a direct impact, encouraging shoppers to try a wider range of species. However, consumers are still very reliant on ‘The Big 5’ (cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns), putting significant unsustainable pressure on those few popular species.

Many fish that are caught but wasted are not managed properly, so it is not always clear to retailers and consumers which species are sustainable. More often than not, even basic information on the state of these species’ stocks is lacking. Businesses and consumers need better quality data to properly understand the environmental, and subsequent economic, impacts of harvesting specific fish stocks, in order to be able to make informed choices.

In addition, consumers need to be able to rely on business integrity to be sure that the seafood being sold is responsibly sourced, and they need clear and consistent labelling to inform their decisions when buying seafood. Whilst a number of businesses have developed sourcing policies, there is no requirement to do so and no minimum criteria for responsible sourcing, resulting in wide variations in the robustness of sourcing policies, or in some cases no sourcing policy at all. While it is possible that the reformed common fisheries policy (CFP) may see changes to seafood labelling laws, there are currently no clear guidelines on this, which means that some claims can be confusing to consumers. The ClientEarth report Environmental claims on supermarket seafood in January 2011 highlighted this issue and acted as a catalyst to bring about positive and ambitious change, through the creation of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition.

The vision and aims of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition

The SSC is working together to drive for more sustainable seafood now. The SSC is unique in Europe, successfully bringing together major businesses to make tangible changes. Our vision is that all fish and seafood sold in the UK is from sustainable sources. We will achieve this through the collaborative development of voluntary industry Codes of Conduct which will aim:

1. To promote sustainable fish and seafood consumption

2.  To encourage UK consumers to eat a wider variety of sustainable seafood, and to
introduce species to our stores and restaurants that are currently underutilised or

3. To develop minimum standards for sustainable seafood sourcing policies and decision trees

4. To support the sustainable use of unwanted discarded species’ trimmings and offal in the manufacture of fishmeal

5. To use harmonised seafood labelling based on agreed standards in order to provide consumers with accurate information on sustainability

6. To require fishers, where possible, to collect catch and discard information for the fish and shellfish sourced by Coalition members and pass this information to  government authorities for use in scientific assessments

7. To adhere to a new voluntary industry code of conduct agreed by the Coalition until sufficient management measures and labelling rules are in place

8. To influence changes in policy at UK, EU and international level

9. To build national and global alliances

10. To inform the public debate on seafood


The SSC was formed by ClientEarth and launched officially in May 2011. Initially, membership was sought from supermarkets and suppliers, as these account for over 80 per cent of seafood sales in the UK[2]. However the SSC will take a cross-sectoral approach, in order to be as inclusive as possible: we are now extending our membership to the foodservices sector, including restaurants, takeaways and the public sector, and intend to extend to fishmeal producers and users in the future.

What does this mean for consumers?

The SSC members are united in a vision for sustainable seafood and have made a commitment to adopt the SSC voluntary industry Codes of Conduct (those that are currently being written, and those that will be worked on in the future). Although the SSC members are business competitors, they have come together because they feel that sustainability should not be a competitive issue, rather it should be a given that shoppers can trust supermarkets and retailers to source and label seafood responsibly. For the consumer, this will mean they can rely on a consistent approach by SSC members, allowing them to make more informed decisions about their seafood purchases.

The Codes

The SSC will produce at least three Codes of Conduct, initially on labelling, sourcing and species diversification. The Codes are developed collaboratively by the SSC members (including ClientEarth), with invaluable support and advice from experts in the field, including government, non-governmental organisations and certification schemes.

One of the aims of the SSC is to use harmonised seafood labelling to provide consumers with accurate information on sustainability. The SSC Code of Conduct on Self-Declared Environmental Labelling of Fish Products is designed to achieve this. It sets out base commitments made by the members for environmental claims in relation to their seafood products, including a commitment not to use such claims if the products do not meet the agreed criteria in the code. The labelling code is in the final stages of development and will be the first Code to be implemented.

A Code on Responsible Sourcing is also currently being developed. This Code aims to set base criteria and considerations for seafood sourcing policies that all members commit to.  The Code also includes a commitment to improve consumer  understanding and availability of sourcing policies to the public. The objective of the Code is to ensure that base criteria for responsible seafood sourcing are consistent across the industry, allowing consumers to make more informed decisions about their purchases.

The SSC also aims to support the diversification of responsibly sourced seafood in the UK market and the third SSC Code, on species diversification, will address this issue. The Code will focus on ways in which SSC members can encourage consumers to eat a wider range of responsibly sourced species which are currently unfamiliar and under-utilised, to help relieve the pressure on ‘The Big 5’ and promote sustainable seafood. The SSC recognises that diversification must be carefully managed, so that consumers are not encouraged to eat species from stocks which are in a poor state. The diversification Code will be the next task for the SSC members and work on its development will begin soon.


Melissa Pritchard | SSC coordinator | ClientEarth
The Hothouse, 274 Richmond Road, London, E8 3QW
t. +44 (0)207 7495970 | m. +44 (0)7538 423868 | e. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

For more information about the Sustainable Seafood Coalition, read our launch press release here


1.  29.9% global stocks overfished Food and Agriculture Organisation (2012). The state of world fisheries and aquaculture 2012. FAO: Rome
2. Pers. comm. Seafood Authority Economics Group, 20/10/10; The Guardian, ‘Britons want to buy sustainable fish but labels leave us baffled’, 24 May 2010.