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Scottish haddock fishermen enjoy income protection and access to European markets through blue MSC ecolabel

Scottish haddock fishermen can enjoy income protection and access to new European markets (Photo- Nigel Millard for MSC)

AS some restaurants take costly cod off menu, Scottish haddock is becoming a sustainable alternative. Scottish haddock fishermen can enjoy income protection and access to new European markets thanks to being certified to the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) Standard for sustainable seafood, according to new research.

The blue MSC ecolabel is the world’s leading sustainable seafood ecolabel. The mark on everything from tinned tuna to fresh fish counters means that the products come from a certified sustainable fishery. This gives consumers assurance that the fishery is not overfished, minimises impact on the wider marine environment and is well managed.

Maintenance of existing UK domestic markets and establishing new ones in Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands have been two of the key benefits of MSC certification in the Scottish haddock fishery, according to the independent study by the research and science communications consultancy Seedly and the New Economics Foundation.

The fishery, part of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainability Assessment Group’s MSC certificate, which also includes hake, plaice, saithe and whiting, is celebrating after gaining its re-certification for MSC last week, after first being certified in 2010.

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Elsewhere, Devon-based chef Mitch Tonks recently took the difficult decision to take cod off the menu at his chain of Rockfish restaurants, citing rising costs and uncertainly around possible sanctions on Russian boats. Up to a third of fish and chip shops are at risk of closure due to soaring cod and cooking oil costs because of the war in Ukraine, according to the National Federation of Fish Fryers.

George Clark, MSC UK & Ireland Programme Director, said: “Although cod stocks in Iceland and Norway remain certified and sustainable, some restaurants in the UK have been taking the decision to remove cod from their menus due to rising costs. Scottish haddock is a sustainable, local option for fish and chips and one that restaurants can also turn to, to serve something more affordable during difficult economic circumstances for customers.”

“Other species landed in the UK such as MSC certified hake, plaice, whiting and importantly coley, which is very affordable, are also brilliant sustainable alternative white fish species to try. It is testament to the incredible hard work of the fishermen of Scotland that they can continue to meet the standards of the blue MSC ecolabel for haddock as well as these other key species.”

“It is also great to read in this independent report that everyone along the supply chain from fishermen to processors feel they benefit from the ecolabel, through protected income and access to new markets.”

Calum Richardson, owner of the Bay Fish and Chips, Stonehaven, Scotland, said:

“At The Bay fish and Chips, sustainability and local produce are at the heart of what we do – 100% of the fish we buy is from Peterhead market and 99% of the white fish we sell is Scottish haddock.”  

“We run a strict system of only buying fish from the market that is sustainable and in season. We have to support not only the fish in the sea but also the people who catch the fish for us all to eat.”

Mike Park, chair of the SFSAG, said: “MSC certification has become intrinsic to the economic success of SFSAG member vessels. The recertification is, in our eyes, acknowledgment that our fishermen continue to nurture the stocks in a way that it provides continued sustainability. The MSC badge is very much seen by the fishermen as their own tick in the box.”

Some 89% of those surveyed said they maintained market access in the UK, while 67% agreed that the reputation of the fishery had improved. Interestingly, 44% reported improved access to European markets, including in Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands, reflecting a growing demand for sustainable seafood across Europe.

Other unexpected benefits included improvements in quality control and improved morale, the researchers found.

Haddock is the most important demersal whitefish species to Scottish fishermen. Over 20,000 tonnes of haddock were landed into Scotland by Scottish vessels in 2021, worth £28.8 million.  Globally, there are 20 haddock fisheries that have met the MSC Fisheries Standard.  Combined, these represent 93% of the global haddock catch being MSC certified. The UK is an important market for these fisheries, accounting for nearly 76% of all MSC labelled haddock product sales (by volume) globally. 

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