By Hayley Swanlund, Seafood Sustainability Officer, WWF-UK and Clarus Chu, Senior Policy Advisor (Production), WWF-UK
The UK was once a net exporter of seafood, voyaging across oceans to catch our favourite fish such as cod. However, over the past few decades the UK has increasingly relied on seafood from overseas, becoming a net importer in 1984, primarily due to the decline of local fish stocks, fishing ground access restrictions and an increase in demand.
From 2010 to 2019 wholesale trade of seafood in the UK increased by 47%, reflecting our growing population and surges in imports and exports. Yet, the average UK citizen is only eating half of the government-recommended two portions of fish a week.
We are now facing a ‘triple challenge’: producing nutritious food for a growing global population while staying on track to keep global temperature increases to within 1.5°C and reversing biodiversity loss. In recent years, more businesses have explored the role of seafood or ‘blue food’ as an alternative source of animal protein, amid concerns over the environmental impacts of livestock. While the potential benefits of eating more seafood are recognised, to date there has been no comprehensive analysis to understand the collective impacts of the UK’s seafood consumption on global biodiversity loss, climate change, and their associated risks to nature and people.
- In 2019 the UK ate 887,000 tonnes of seafood, equivalent to 5.2 billion portions of fish chips
- 81% of this seafood by volume is imported yet 70% of our domestic seafood production is exported overseas
- No environmental or social regulatory criteria exist for imported seafood apart from ensuring wild-caught seafood is from a legal source
- Highest footprint species, those with the highest risks overall, include tuna, swordfish, warm-water prawns, squid and certain crab species
- Lowest footprint species include farmed mussels and small pelagic fish such as herring
- The UK’s seafood demand directly impacts at least 253 Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species
UK governments, businesses and consumers all have an important role to play in reducing the UK’s seafood consumption footprint at home and across the world. This includes the hospitality industry, which is an important provider of seafood in the UK. Recommendations for the hospitality industry include to:
- Publicly disclose sustainability information on seafood species sold to inform customer choices
- Promote more low footprint seafood choices for customers including locally produced seafood such as UK farmed mussels
- Offer more diverse species to reduce pressure on more popular choices, following WWF’s top tips
- Work with supply chains to close traceability gaps of products
- Advocate and support calls for improvements to government regulations and third-party certification schemes
As a net importer of seafood, the UK’s seafood footprint has significant environmental and social impacts far beyond our shores. Although positive progress has been made in recent decades to improve the way seafood is produced, managed and sold in the UK, it is evident there is still much more to do. The hospitality industry should work together with governments, consumers and other businesses for the shared responsibility to reduce the impacts of the UK’s seafood consumption on nature, climate and people.
 Summary report: https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-08/WWF_Risky_Seafood_Business_Summary_Report_2022.pdf, Technical report: https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-08/WWF_Risky_Seafood_Business_Technical_Report_2022.pdf