London, UK – Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation today announced the completion of an independent audit of the risks to ocean wildlife in the fisheries that supply seafood to UK retailer Co-op. The study examined threats to sharks and rays, seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles from capture in commercial fisheries, commonly referred to as “bycatch.”
“Ensuring Co-op seafood is responsibly sourced is a priority and through our comprehensive Healthy Oceans Strategy, we are committed to protecting oceans, fish stocks, and livelihoods,” said Aisla Jones, fisheries and aquaculture manager at Co-op. “Reducing bycatch of vulnerable species is a key part of that commitment and this first bycatch audit is a significant step towards understanding where species are at risk, and what we need to do to protect them. I’m pleased we are able to lead the way with this activity, helping to protect our oceans.”
“Co-op is one of the top retailers in the UK selling sustainable seafood,” said Ian Rolmanis, global markets deputy director at Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. “Co-op’s commitment to addressing bycatch will increase the sustainability of its seafood offerings, and influence actions throughout its supply chain and with other retailers.”
The audit, conducted by the three organisations, included a review and risk assessment of the fisheries disclosed by Co-op in the Ocean Disclosure Project. While the primary purpose of the audit was to identify fisheries where there are bycatch risks, it revealed broad and proactive actions by Co-op to promote healthy fisheries and protect marine biodiversity. For example:
- Co-op’s tuna sourcing comes from fisheries with healthy stocks and that use techniques, such as pole and line, that have very minimal bycatch impacts and/or impacts on habitat.
- There were very few fisheries with significant threats to sea turtles or sharks and rays. The Co-op supply chain specifically avoids fishery products from fisheries that have high population-level impacts on sea turtles, such as pelagic longline fisheries in the Pacific Ocean. They also do not source from purse seine fisheries that use fish aggregating devices, which can have negative impacts on these species.
- Co-op’s Healthy Oceans strategy includes sourcing from fishery improvement projects (FIPs) and fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that have mechanisms in place to support solutions on bycatch issues.
“It’s very encouraging to see supermarkets taking the issue of bycatch seriously,” said Rory Crawford, bycatch programme manager at RSPB. “There are a host of solutions out there to solve this problem, and our hope is that this is the first step on a journey that brings about tangible changes on the water, resulting in many birds, marine mammals, sharks and rays and turtles being saved from needless death.”
The audit identified a number of fisheries as having high potential bycatch risk. A full list of these fisheries will be incorporated into Co-op’s Ocean Disclosure Project profile. The following are the fisheries with the greatest bycatch threats and where Co-op will prioritize action:
- Alaska salmon set/drift gillnet fisheries, with significant risks to seabirds.
- Icelandic cod/haddock gillnet and longline fisheries, with significant risks to seabirds and marine mammals.
- Canadian (American) Lobster & UK Brown crab pot and trap fisheries, with risks to marine mammals.
“Retailers have an important role in protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises from bycatch in the fisheries that they purchase from,” said Sarah Dolman, bycatch manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “We are delighted to work with Co-op to implement the recommendations we made in the bycatch audit.”
Co-op is a leading UK convenience food retailer and one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives, owned by millions of members. Co-op’s wild capture fisheries and farmed seafood sources can be found on the Ocean Disclosure Project. Co-op established seafood standards in 2008 to ensure its seafood is sourced from well-managed farms and fisheries, and applies a risk assessment process to all of its fish products.
Bycatch audits are a key part of SFP’s Protecting Ocean Wildlife initiative, an international, industry-led effort to address marine wildlife bycatch, especially endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species. This first-of-its-kind initiative engages retailers, the seafood industry, and the entire supply chain to reduce bycatch in fisheries worldwide.
Bycatch, the catch of non-target species, is one of the most significant issues affecting the biological sustainability of marine fisheries. Fisheries bycatch is a primary driver of population decline for many endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species, whose populations are already at very low levels and are formally listed or protected by international, national and/or local jurisdictions.
Sharks and rays, seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles, all of which are ecologically important to ocean habitats, are at high risk of capture and harm in commercial fisheries. Many of these species are distributed across large geographic areas and overlap many fisheries. Many also have life-history characteristics that make them vulnerable to fishing-related mortality, such as slow growth, long reproductive cycles, and production of small numbers of offspring.