/ Food & Drink, Shopping

How green is your fish?

According to research from Canada’s University of Victoria, if it’s Atlantic salmon from Marks & Spencer, it’s not very green. The uni ranked M&S’s eco-label second to last in its study of sustainable farmed fish schemes.

Every careers test I did at school and university said I should become a fish farmer! That must mean I care about fish – and I must admit I was interested to see the University of Victoria’s recent study.

The study looked 20 marine fish aquaculture standards – or farmed fish sustainability schemes to you and me – and rated M&S’s farmed salmon very low. In fact, it claims that farmed fish sold under M&S’s eco-label is no better for the environment than conventionally farmed ones.

M&S ranked almost last

The two-year study benchmarked the schemes against ten criteria, using the Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI – or should that be guppy?). Criteria included antibiotics in the fish and the sustainability of the fish feed.

M&S’s eco-label came second to last out of the 20 schemes, with a score of 62 out of 100.

The only other retailer included in the study (the others were industry or third party schemes) was Whole Foods Market, a ‘natural and organic grocery’ store. It came middle of the shoal, with 75 out of 100.

Do you look for eco-labels?

Overall the study showed that organic fish is best and that eco labels are good for consumer confidence. However, it also concluded that many of the standards behind these schemes ignore major environmental impacts of fish farming.

Interestingly, our own research into sustainable fish labels showed that a third of people didn’t recognise the labels, and 40% thought the labels didn’t give enough information to enable them to make a sustainable choice.

These labelling schemes have other critics. In January, Greenpeace expressed doubts about the main fish labelling scheme here in the UK, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). It claimed that some of the fish being certified by MSC were not sustainable enough to be in such a scheme.

Improving farmed fish standards

It’s good to see that M&S has committed itself to ensuring all its farmed fish are as sustainable as possible by 2015. It wants to improve standards and it has to start somewhere. However, I’ll be interested to see if this study leads to any immediate changes to M&S’s scheme.

So, will this new research make you change your halibuts – *ahem* – habits? Will you be sole searching about your choice of fish? Do you think the M&S fish scheme is floundering? Will some other fish take it’s plaice on your plate? Or do you think the scheme is hunky dory?


The link to the University of Victoria’s study does not work but here is a link to the full report:
It is long but easy to read, and not full of scientific language.

This points to deficiencies in the code of practice relating to Marks & Spencer Atlantic salmon and to similar deficiencies in other companies’ codes of practice or standards. Fish farming is a lot more complex than most people realise and it is not just a simple solution to the problems of over-fishing. Hopefully better information will be made available so that the public can make an informed choice.

Thanks for contriving a delightful collection of pathetic puns, Jo. I am surprised that you did not mention the claim in Marks & Spencer stores: We believe in sustainable fishing. Hook, line and sinker. That always makes me cringe.

Thanks for fixing the link.

Tim Croker says:
17 January 2012

This report is significantly flawed and is not a true reflection in any way of M&S’s actual (very good) performance on seafood.

““The research uses out of date information from 2006 and includes a product we haven’t sold for over five years. We consider ourselves to be in an industry leading position in terms of environmentally friendly farmed fish, not just in our fresh fish offerings but for the ingredients that go into our products too.”


I have also discussed the report with seafood sustainability experts and they have said that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

I’m sorry to see Which? not do any due diligence on what it reports. If something conflicts so significantly with what you would otherwise believe to be correct, surely a bit of investigation would be in order?

Hi Tim, thanks for the link. Which? Conversation isn’t necessarily a place for our big investigations, instead it is a starting point for a debate. In this case, the report was the start of the discussion and it’s for the comments to continue this questioning, which you have now done. Thanks.