This week Edinburgh hosts the World Fisheries Congress. About 1,500 delegates are expected over the five days to hear from speakers from industry, science, fisheries and aquaculture.
The Prince of Wales is expected to use his speech today (May 8) to call for “urgent and collective action” from all stakeholders to save disappearing fish stocks. The Prince’s International Sustainability Unit charity will also publish a joint declaration on action for wild marine fisheries, backed by more than 120 organisations including fishing-industry bodies, fish suppliers, retailers and non-governmental groups.
Others are also calling for the food industry to take a more active role in protecting the seas and sourcing sustainable fish.
Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk, congress organiser Michel Kaiser, from Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, highlighted the critical role food businesses have in driving change – and how some were finding their voice.
“In the past they have tended to keep their heads below the parapet and accept the situation [regarding fisheries policy and management] and build their businesses within the constraints of that.”
But he added: “They’ve got frustrated with politicians sitting on their hands. It’s been a long time coming but we’ve now started to see the positive impact in some fisheries where the big companies have got involved.”
The congress will cover a number of topics, but one that is likely to once again steal the spotlight is discards. According to campaign group WWF, 50% of the fish caught in Europe are thrown back overboard because they are either under-sized, unmarketable or over and above the allowed quota.
The practice prompted celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to launch his ‘Fish fight’ campaign last year. It has been backed by hundreds of thousands of Europeans as well as food businesses including Birds Eye Iglo (BEIG) and Young’s Seafood.
This week Young’s reiterated its desire to tackle the issue head on. Following a meeting with the Scottish government, the firm’s chief executive Leendert den Hollander said “moving discards up the policy agenda is very important”.
The initiative has been applauded by campaigners who want more businesses to back sustainable fishing policies.
Debbie Crockard, Marine Conservation Society fisheries policy officer, said: “Companies like Young’s have an important role in influencing both consumer and fishers’ behaviour to ensure the long-term sustainability of our ecosystems and fisheries.”
WWF marine team adviser Clarus Chu welcomed the involvement of food manufacturers in the debates. However, he warned against companies imposing any restrictions on suppliers in terms of discards.
BEIG has suggested that any ban on discards should be preceded by trials to ensure that the consequences of the changes are understood.
Meanwhile, Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said: “Throwing marketable fish back in to the sea dead is economic and ecological madness.
“Flawed European fisheries policy has imposed discards on fishermen and we need effective and enforceable measures to end this wasteful practice.”