This month we have written to Waitrose voicing our deep concern about this supermarket’s continued sourcing of dredge-caught scallops.
When we first launched as an organisation, we started talking with those companies buying seafood from some of the most environmentally damaging fisheries here in Scotland. We hoped that by providing information to organisations with strong corporate responsibility statements, they would recognise the environmental problems and take action.
The supermarket Waitrose has recently topped the list of ‘eco-friendly retailers‘ and their commitments to sustainability are a very serious part of their organisation’s brand profile. It is therefore surprising that Waitrose is the only UK supermarket to buy and sell Scottish scallops caught by dredging. As countless reports acknowledge, the current footprint of scallop dredging is unsustainable and there is significant need and opportunity to improve the management of this damaging fishery. Waitrose now sources scallops only from Shetland – whilst arguably slightly better managed than other scallop fisheries, this fishery still has serious problems.
We now set out our concerns in an open letter to Waitrose’s Director of Sustainability and Ethics.
Waitrose makes three central statements in its marketing literature about its seafood sourcing. Below we publicly summarise why we do not think these statements are currently defensible and amount to corporate greenwash.
“All our fish and seafood is traceable from catch to checkout, so we know who caught it – and where.”
This is not true.
In our view, Waitrose has recently admitted to this statement being misleading.
Waitrose are unable to determine where in Shetland the scallops they sell were caught and, until recently, were apparently mislabelling them as “caught on the West Coast of Scotland”.
The Shetland MSC certification has recommended full traceability since it was first certified in 2012. However, just weeks ago, that “70%” of the scallop dredge vessels in Shetland are fitted with vessel tracking systems – Waitrose has confirmed it is not able to trace where all scallops in its supply chain are caught. Waitrose had promised that vessel tracking will be fitted on all Shetland’s scallop vessels by January 2022, but now claims this will be in place by end of February 2022.
Besides these scallops dredged from Shetland, Waitrose has also until recently sourced them from the west coast of Scotland. Commitments by the Scottish Government to deploy ‘Remote Electronic Monitoring’ (REM) on the entire Scottish scallop fleet have been repeatedly failed. There is therefore still no effective traceability regime for west coast scallops. We understand Waitrose has been sourcing scallops from west coast dredgers without REM which have routinely switched off their own public AIS tracking systems. So Waitrose cannot have known where they have been caught.
“We work only with well-managed fisheries and we never sell species that are threatened or endangered.”
This statement is demonstrably not true. Until recently (see above) Waitrose has been sourcing at least some of its supply from the west of Scotland. The west of Scotland scallop dredge fishery cannot conceivably be considered well managed: incidents of illegal activity are frequent; much-needed spatial management has yet to be delivered, despite the long-standing recommendations of independent fisheries consultants commissioned by Scotland’s Inshore Fishing Group network (now Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups).
Waitrose recently confirmed that it currently sources UK scallops only from the MSC-certified Shetland dredge fishery. While we recognise this fishery may be slightly better managed than others, there remain significant issues: fisheries management advice on valuable habitats vulnerable to dredging activity, intended to protect and recover marine habitats, were issued in 2016 by Scotland’s statutory nature conservation advisors. This has yet to be implemented. This advice and more recent research shows areas of known habitat that deserve additional protection remain vulnerable to dredging activity. This is also what the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation’s own management plan says should happen. This is a clear case of fisheries management failing to keep up with the urgency of the biodiversity crisis. For the past five years, Waitrose could have worked with suppliers to improve management of the fishery by exploring a Code of Conduct with a view to improving management, or even just ensuring that the stated management plan is complied with when it comes to protecting the recently mapped sensitive habitats. No such measures have been implemented.
Waitrose therefore continues to source scallops from Marine Protected Areas without effective environmental protection measures in place. In our view, it is simply not defensible for Waitrose to claim that it “work[s] only with well-managed fisheries”.
“all our seafood is responsibly farmed and caught”
Scallop dredging is one of the most destructive fishing methods in Europe. The fact that Waitrose buys only ‘certified’ scallops and participates in the Sustainable Seafood Coalition does not change basic facts about the scallops it sells:
- Waitrose sells scallops dredged from Marine Protected Areas.
- Waitrose sources from the only scallop fishery in Scotland not to license hand-diving for scallops. Hand-diving is a more sustainable method and alternative to dredging for scallops. Waitrose does not sell hand-dived scallops.
- Previous audits of the dredge fishery from which Waitrose sources have shown that a significant proportion of the dredged catch by weight was in fact damaged bycatch species such as horse mussels. This destructive bycatch means hundreds of tonnes of biogenic reef-forming, carbon-sequestrating marine biodiversity is being removed from the seabed and killed by the fishery every year.
In light of this, how can Waitrose consider its choice to sell dredged scallops to be responsible? Surely Waitrose considers hand-diving for scallops to be a less environmentally damaging method of harvesting scallops than dredging?
We are now calling on both customers and concerned members of the public to support our #EndSeafoodGreenwash campaign to send retailers a clear message that environmental damage is not an acceptable price to pay for putting seafood on their shelves.