Do you know where your supermarket seafood is sourced? We have partnered with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and Whale and Dolphin Conservation to tackle bycatch and encourage retailers to supply sustainably sourced seafood. 

Fisheries bycatch is recognised as one of the main drivers of global seabird population declines, and while effective mitigation measures exist, more than 600,000 seabirds are estimated to be killed as bycatch in fisheries every year. Achieving sustainable fisheries is impossible if we do not address this issue.

So, if we have available solutions, why are bycatch rates still so high? Although many countries around the world require vessels to use some form of bycatch mitigation measures, inconsistencies remain between fishing fleets. For some time, the RSPB has been working closely with both governmental organisations and industry to promote the uptake, effective use, and enforcement of bycatch mitigation measures around the world. But change at this level can be slow, particularly through top-down processes (e.g., legislation change).

One key player in fisheries are retailers – fisheries, of course, exist to put seafood on shelves! As public awareness regarding the issues of fisheries bycatch has increased, retailers have been looking for ways to ensure their products are source sustainably. To support these efforts, we have joined a new partnership with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) to drive improvement in fisheries management through retailers. Led by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, we aim to reduce the bycatch risk for seabirds, marine mammals, sharks, and turtles in fisheries supplying products to well-known commercial retailers.

The work has been made possible by the SFP, who developed the Ocean Disclosure Project (ODP) to promote transparency in seafood sourcing for retailers. By supporting the ODP, retailers agree to share where their seafood products are sourced. This creates an opportunity for the Partnership to identify high-risk fishing practices within a retailer’s supply chain. Once a high-risk fishery is identified, we can provide specific recommendations to reduce bycatch risk. These might include the use of simple mitigation measures like bird-scaring lines or improving observer coverage and monitoring on vessels. Equipping retailers with such knowledge allows representatives to demand a sustainable product from industry and collectively drive improvements to global fishing practices.

The first audit conducted by the partnership considered the supply chain for ASDA supermarkets. In response to recommendations made through the process, ASDA announced a ban on sourcing any fish caught in gillnets to reduce bycatch risk to cetaceans, seabirds, and sea turtles.

The latest bycatch audit is of the Co-op supermarket’s seafood offering, and has identified gillnetted Alaskan salmon, longline/gillnet caught Icelandic cod and Fijian longline yellowfin tuna as the top three fisheries for action on seabird bycatch, with recommendations including improved observer coverage, better data collection and use of best practice measures to prevent bycatch.

While we wait to see what change can be driven ‘on the water’ through this process, we are hopeful that it will provide a strong complement to the grassroots engagement we do with industry (e.g. through the Albatross Task Force) and the top-down policy efforts we have invested over the years to secure clear bycatch requirements in some of the most important fisheries jurisdictions.