MCS Sustainable Supermarket Survey

Supermarkets tackling the issue of sourcing sustainable fish

The latest Sustainable Supermarket League Table is published today by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) as part of its continuing Consumer Awareness campaign. The Table is based on the performance of the main UK supermarkets against various criteria, including the policies that shape their buying decisions and the sustainability of the fish they sell. Since last year's survey (published in March 2006) a number of fish identified by MCS as from unsustainable sources have been "delisted", or removed from sale by various supermarkets. Full details can be viewed at www.fishonline.org.

Waitrose and Marks and Spencer are placed jointly at the top of the League Table. Both companies are strongly committed to sustainability and have a reputation for only selling fish from responsibly managed fisheries. Tesco and Sainsbury's are placed third and fourth respectively.

“The sustainability of seafood continues to be an important concern for the consumer,”  says Bernadette Clarke, MCS Fisheries Officer. “Supermarkets, through which 85% (by volume) of chilled and frozen fish is sold, have a huge responsibility to both their customers and the environment to ensure that their buying policies address this concern and that the seafood they sell is produced in the most sustainable way possible.”

Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Morrisons all have the distinction of not selling any fish from the MCS List of Fish to Avoid. Waitrose sells the greatest number of fish from the MCS Fish to Eat List (26 species), followed by Morrisons (22 species) and Tesco (20 species).

The MCS consumer awareness campaign continues to be immensely successful in achieving positive change. Many kinds of fish from over-exploited stocks have been removed from sale by a number of supermarkets, and the sale of fish products from sustainable sources has grown with the informed consumer's demand.

Supermarkets now sell a wide range of fish including species from the MCS List of Fish to Eat (accessed via www.fishonline.org) and combined with the wealth of information available on how to prepare and cook fish MCS is keen for consumers to “try something new”. With only the five most popular fish species (cod, haddock, tuna, warm and cold-water prawns) accounting for 60-80% of fish sales, consumers need to diversify their tastes to take the pressure off the most heavily exploited species.

Species of concern still on sale in some supermarkets include marlin, Atlantic cod from overfished stocks such as the Eastern Baltic, plaice from the North Sea, warm-water prawns trawled in the wild, and Dover sole from the Eastern Channel.

Labelling of fish products is one area in particular where MCS considers all supermarkets could improve. MCS would like to see all fish products labelled with their common and scientific name; specific area and method of capture; and an indication of its sustainability through, for example, eco-labelling, allowing the consumer to make fully informed decisions about the seafood they buy. Morrisons has made significant improvements to it's labelling of counter fish since last years survey which now includes scientific name and method of capture.

With farmed fish supplying approximately a third of UK fish sustainable production is a key concern for MCS. Dawn Purchase, Mariculture Officer said “Although a number of supermarkets include key sustainable and environmental requirements for production of UK farmed fish such as salmon, few have such stringent requirements for production outside of the UK. MCS would like to see all supermarkets developing a comprehensive policy for imported farmed production as well as a greater focus on the sustainability of the feed used to grow farmed carnivorous fish both within the UK and elsewhere.”

MCS Supermarket League Table 2007

First Place (Joint): Marks and Spencer, Waitrose
Third Place: Tesco
Fourth Place: Sainsbury's      
Fifth Place: ASDA      
Sixth Place: Morrisons
Seventh place: Co-Op
Eighth Place: Iceland
No response received from: Somerfield
No response received from: Booths
Not contacted in 2007: Lidl

Summaries for individual supermarkets performance and League Table available on request or available on line at www.fishonline.org