Is eco-fishing the new organic?

Charles Redfern - 26 October 2011

Fish4Ever tuna has come top in Greenpeace Australia’s tuna league table for the second year running. Our sustainable canned tuna got a world-beating 89% for sustainability.
Although we were excluded from  the Greenpeace UK tuna league table for the last two years because it is a “supermarket table", our canned tuna got top-ethical and sustainable ranking from Ethical Consumer.
Together with Hugh's brilliant Fish Fight, Greenpeace's table certainly shook-up Big Tuna. The question is: how real, substantial and effective will the promised changes be?
Some, including Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer’s and Young's, have been doing fish sustainability for a long time and earned their stripes. With others, the phrase “jumping on the bandwagon” springs to mind.
A paper-pledge will help a company climb a league table but, once the glare of media spotlight moves on, how many will quietly withdraw their pledges?
I am also concerned how paper-promises confuse the consumer. I am amazed by the mishmash of sustainability terms, NGO name-dropping, and high-falluting words used. How can a consumer sort the wheat from the chaff?
As someone whose heart is in organic, I am also struck by how politicians, press and public have embraced the issue of sea-sustainability - in a way they have have not with land-sustainability.  
My suspicion is that fish sustainability is getting an easy ride because people don't understand how complex it is. There's a honeymoon period, just as the organic world had a decade ago. The truth is that sea sustainability is just as complex.  
I think people lose interest when black and white becomes shades of grey. This is where organic seems to be at present.
And yet organic is the one system where the actual use of the word "sustainable" is enshrined in law. 
We are close to the limits of what ethical shopping can achieve. Beyond that we need ethical rules, seriously implemented, policed and controlled.
Nudge, a current policy buzzword, is doomed to failure if you leave it to the marketplace. Changes must happen at a citizen as well as at a consumer level.  
Meanwhile, back on consumer level, here is a Fish4Ever announcement: our tuna cannery in the Azores has just certified as organic (with our support) so watch out for our sustainable skipjack tuna with organic oil!

Charles is the founder of the ethical canned fish company, Fish4Ever, the sister company of Organico, both based in Reading. Fish4Ever's motto is Land, Sea and People. Its land ingredients are 100% organic - supporting traditional fishing communities is as important as saving the fish. He is currently involved in a number of awareness-raising campaigns working with WWF, Sustainable Fish City, the Environmental Justice Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society.

Azores little boat Fishing2.jpg

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Jane Easton
03 January 2012 17:11

I find it so depressing reading about 'sustainable' animal foods. We need to be eating way, way less animal foods (land or sea) and moving towards a more vegan diet - that's what all the green groups worth their salt say, from the two UN reports in the past 5 years onwards. So why aren't groups like the SA demanding subsidies for arable farmers to grow climate-suitable pulses, wholegrains and all instead of biodiversity-destroying animal foods and fishing? If we have half a chance of feeding the world we have to stop feeding 80% of the world's soya to animals,let alone the vast amounts of grain. Even in the UK most of the plantfoods we grow are fed to animals, for such a small return. 'Sustainable' fish is a misnomer: while some methods might be a tad more sustainable than industrial fishing, our reliance on fish as a food is decimating the oceans and their eco-systems/wild life and the farming of salmon, prawns and such is appalling. Moreover, it is a hugely cruel industry. I work in animal welfare/veganism so see a lot of atrocities yet the footage of tuna slaughter still gives me nightmares. Most of the modern science about fish is only just a decade old: so they DO feel pain; they are far more intelligent and sociable creatures than was previously thought - yet there is no welfare legislation for their slaughter. They suffer enormously. If these silent animals could scream we might understand more.

Mike Hennessey
11 November 2011 17:39

I agree entirly.Can you help me pass on the news to the Bristol area?See website at

01 November 2011 09:48

some good points, Charles, but I can't help believe that the public, political and media interest in fish has been fueled primarily by anger (if not dis-belief) over the volume of fish discarded, amplified enormously by the Hugh's Fish's an easy cause to follow and therefore has become popular very quickly. The challenge for land-sustainability is that there is little energy for it from a general public more concerned about making ends meet for the moment; yes you can argue that preserving the health of the soil is of paramount importance, but it's not seen as a great injustice in the same way as throwing away perfectly nutritious fish.

Lynda Brown
31 October 2011 16:46

Here here!. Great blog, and spot on.

Elisabeth Winkler
28 October 2011 14:09

Fish4Ever is not only top of Greenpeace Australia's eco-league table - but it is soon to star in the country's top TV series: Neighbours.So Australian viewers, watch out for Harold's store in the next weeks, and a developing storyline that indeed may include our new soap star, Fish4Ever...

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