We talked with Ethical Consumer Magazine to discuss how Fish4Ever got started, the difficulties we face, and our views on MSC certification. You can read the interview in full below, or HERE on the Ethical Consumer site.
- How did Fish4Ever start? And why? What was and is the dream behind it?
Fish4Ever was founded on the idea of bringing Organic values to sustainability in fish. Our holistic, all-encompassing approach, is both real and comprehensive, focusing on land, sea and people, supporting not only the best possible fishing practices, but also the communities and small boats that enact them.
- How far would you say you have gone into achieving your initial ambitions? / What do you see as your main achievements in improving supply chains environmentally and in terms of the welfare of workers/employees in supply chains?
We see ourselves as a campaigning brand, and as such are proud to have acted as an example and catalyst, not just in UK but also in Europe, forcing some pretty poor sourcing in the fish market to improve their standards.
- What difficulties have you faced and what do you feel is holding you back?
The complexities of the ethics of sustainability can often cause confusion. Certification such as the MSC is good in terms of pulling industrial fishing into shape, but it then becomes difficult to communicate to retailers and consumers that it does not go far enough. Ethical standpoints still require the oxygen of publicity to elevate them into the public conscience, and while organisations such as Greenpeace have shone a light on fish sustainability, many people still don’t have the time or inclination to fully engage.
- Who have been your ‘allies’ that have contributed to your achievements?
We work closely with a number of NGO’s, for example, the International Pole and Line Federation, the Marine Conservation Society, the Environmental Justice Foundation, the Slow Food movement, and Bloom in France. We are eternally grateful to independent shops in the organic sector as well as the fine food shops and farm shops who have embraced and supported what we do. Ocado has been a great supporter too and gives us access to a wider consumer base. Our real big thank you goes to the actual consumers buying our products – thankfully we get amazing feedback on the quality and taste of our fish which of course matters hugely in a food product.
- How do you think you can improve your company’s impact on the environment and on social justice in supply chains in the future?
We will keep on campaigning for better. By developing our range and growing our brand we are aiming to carry both the consumer and the media with us for a greater overall impact. Proper standards require better governance in ethics and we will continue to push for this.
- Have you ever had to make a business decision that challenged your business ethics?
No, we haven’t. However the really sad and worrying point is that ethics alone don’t sell. Many of our competitors are somewhat hypocritical, or at least what we would deem as “ethics-lite”. Doing things better costs more and an “ethics-lite” approach does not actually reflect these costs, rather it serves to confuse consumers and helps to muddy the waters (no pun intended).
- How would you explain to a consumer the ways in which you differ from other competitors in the market?
Our land, sea and people philosophy means that we are the only brand to genuinely support the small boat, local packing, and community approach in canned fish. We are authentically engaged in sustainability and campaigning for change and we will always put small boats first. Our fish are landed quickly and packed only using high quality organic ingredients.
- What would you say to a consumer who said to you: “You’re just like the other for-profit companies. Except that you sell ‘environmentalism’ instead of ‘affordability’”?
On the one hand this is a fair point. We do need/rely upon consumers who are willing to pay more. This does not always equate with richer, but we understand that a large proportion of society struggles to afford ethics in food.
There is another side to the argument however, and that is equating the true cost of food. Environmental problems often double up as social problems, and food justice poverty campaigners universally agree that cheap food is not the answer, but part of the problem. We strive to keep our products affordable, but at the same time will not be involved in a market “race to the bottom” if that impacts on our methods or the way in which we treat our suppliers.
We would also argue that we do not essentially “sell environmentalism”, as much as we provide products that we believe are sourced and created to the highest possible ethical standards. This approach shouldn’t have to be a selling point, it should simply be the right way of doing things.
- What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of the Marine Stewardship Council certification? Why have you decided it to use it for certain products but not others?
We see the MSC certification as being an industrial approach. It is the industrial boats that have caused the damage, so of course it is good that they are sorting themselves out, but it is not the best version of sustainability.
The Marine Stewardship Council focus on total fish stocks, which according to FAO stats mean that approximately 80% of the global fish catch could be MSC certified. For us that means the standard or description of over-fishing is therefore set quite low. Of course fish stocks matter – and that’s a governance issue and why we want the governance systems to improve BUT everybody wants that, in theory at least. Our sustainability is about what we do – the decisions and choices that we make. On that aspect the MSC is actually quite weak. In fact it’s always industrial fishing and the industrial demand system which causes overfishing and puts small local boats out of business. This is an injustice that we want to focus on – if our boats fish well, legally, carefully, with no or minimal by-catch and discard, with no damage to the ocean floor, with workers respected and looked after they should be supported and recognised.
Of course we also want the general system to improve, and we recognise people start from a different starting point. We believe in dialogue, participation and improvement. The fundamental problem with the MSC is that it is being promoted by its users as the last word in sustainability and because it has so much power behind it that idea has taken roots, drowning out and excluding a myriad number of better approaches and initiatives.
We recognise that the consumer might want some sort of “proof”. Traceability has always been a key aspect of our sourcing. We’re very excited because in 2017 we are partnering a small Canadian NGO called Ecotrust who have developed a traceability system that will be rolled out onto all our cans. The This Fish on-can coding system will allow consumers to tap in a code and see all the details relevant to the fish they’ve bought. We’ve started on sardines already and the tuna and mackerel are now coming on board. Several of our customers have already got in touch with us via the ThisFish website and we think it’s a great transparency tool.
- How easy is it for UK customers to find your products?
Our range is available UK wide via Ocado. We are also very well represented across the independent sector, from delis to organic stores, as well as the larger London stores such as Wholefoods. Able and Cole also supply a limited range.