Outgoing minister leaves bad quota call in his wake
A fish species about to be added to the New Zealand quota management system (QMS) has been dropped from sale by three of Canada’s eight major supermarket chains in the past year due to sustainability concerns, says Greenpeace (1).
Patagonian toothfish, also known as Chilean sea bass, will be the 99th species to be managed under New Zealand’s QMS. Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley made the announcement today shortly before he resigned (2).
Greenpeace oceans campaigner Karli Thomas said the move was another example of how New Zealand was out of step with international seafood markets.
“New Zealand is heading in the opposite direction to the rest of the world. This week we have the Ministry of Fisheries adding a fish species to the quota system which overseas retailers have already stopped selling. And this is after it tried to increase the quota for the critically endangered southern bluefin tuna by 25 per cent while other countries have agreed to a 20 per cent cut (3).
Canadian retailers are following an international trend which has seen environmentally conscious retailers refusing to sell unsustainably caught seafood. In the last 12 months four supermarket chains have also stopped selling orange roughy and one has removed hoki from sale. Both orange roughy and hoki are caught by destructive bottom trawling.
Internationally, supermarkets are introducing sustainable seafood policies which mean they will not sell seafood that comes from overfished stocks or is caught by destructive fishing methods.
Last year newspapers around the country ran headlines like “No hoki for Queen” (4) following confirmation by Waitrose, the UK supermarket chain used by the royal family, that it no longer stocked New Zealand caught hoki as it failed to meet the store’s sustainability policy.
The New York Times also ran an article critical of New Zealand’s continued bottom trawling for hoki. It took a major online campaign by the New Zealand seafood industry to divert attention from the story.
“While we continue to fish using destructive fishing methods and pretend the quota system takes care of everything, our industry and officials will increasingly find themselves in damage control mode internationally,” said Thomas.
Loblaw, Canada’s largest retail chain, is the latest to remove orange roughy and Patagonian toothfish from sale as the first step in a drive to sell only sustainable seafood by the end of 2013.
The supermarket is embracing the change, putting out empty seafood trays that once displayed the now delisted fish, with signs pointing out they are species at risk and suggesting eco-friendly alternatives. Quoted in the Toronto edition of The Star Melanie Agopian, senior director of meat and seafood for Loblaw, said the company wanted to be "transparent" as consumers were increasingly demanding to know more about their food and where it came from (5).
Waitrose also reaped rewards for its sustainable seafood policy and reported an increase in both fresh and frozen fish sales (6) and a doubling of its market share for fresh fish. (7).
Currently neither of New Zealand’s two supermarket chains, Foodstuffs or Progressive Enterprises, has introduced such policies.
“New Zealanders are being short changed by our government and our supermarkets when it comes to seafood. Sustainable seafood policies make environmental sense, and they make economic sense, in both the short and the long term,” said Thomas.
(1) The three Canadian retailers that have recently publically announced the removal of toothfish from sale are Loblaw, Canada Safeway and Overwaitea. Of the eight main retailers in Canada, only Sobeys has not addressed removing toothfish. Sobeys, along with Metro, are also the only two that continue to sell endangered bluefin tuna.
(3) The proposal by the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries, which seeks to increase the Total Allowable Catch from 420 to 532 Tonnes, is available from the Ministry’s website: http://www.fish.govt.nz/en-nz/Consultations/review+of+Southern+Bluefin+Tuna+STN+1/default.htm?wbc_purpose=Basic%2525252525252526WBCMODE