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reLAKSation no 791

Christmas is coming: Undercurrent News report that Norwegian salmon prices are expected to rise in the run up to Christmas. Prices are currently edging towards NOK 70/kg (£6.57/kg), this is at a time when one British retailer is selling whole Norwegian fish at just £5/kg. They are not alone; the new month has brought a wave of discounting to the retail sector. There are a whole range of offers available this week with discounts of up to a third on both chilled and smoked salmon.

The best price for fillet is currently £9.50/kg (NOK 101/kg) for salmon fillet of 1kg weight. This is well below the price offered by the discount chains.

Undercurrent News also indicate that prices for Scottish salmon are on the rise with a premium of about £1/kg over Norwegian fish. This differential is however not reflected in the stores where origin is not considered important by consumers. Last week, whole Scottish salmon were also being sold at £5/kg but a change of supply to Norwegian suggests limitation on availability.

This week we also noticed that one retailer was selling salmon from either Norway or the UK at a higher price in England than the same pack of fish and labelled as Scottish was being sold in their Scottish stores.

We expect to see further discounting as Christmas approaches. We have already suggested that we will be able to buy whole salmon for as little as £4/kg in the weeks before the holidays.


Fixing falling consumption: According to Intrafish, one of the speakers at their London Investment Forum was Anastasia Alieva, global fresh food director at Euromonitor who spoke about the changing trends of fish and seafood consumption. She highlighted that total sales of fresh fish and seafood by volume is falling throughout Western Europe. Sales declined from 5.99 million metric tonnes in 2010 to 5.88 million tonnes in 2015. To combat this decline, Ms Alieva said that there are changes that retailers and food service providers can implement. These may bring about small changes, but we, at Callander McDowell are not convinced that the successful long-term reversal of this trend can be brought about by the actions of the retail sector. We think that we are now beyond that point. It requires a greater invention than can be instigated by the retail sector. Her suggestions include increasing availability, improving tastes and flavours, keeping prices affordable whilst highlighting the health benefits and educating consumers. She also says that an eye neds to be kept on sustainability.

In the past, we have argued that the increased focus on sustainability has meant that the focus has been lost in other areas. However, of the points she raised, we are not sure that education is the job of the retailer sector but education is fundamental to change.

Ms Alieva told the Investment Forum that Spain is now seeing the largest declines in Western Europe with a 16% fall in sales. Other countries she has monitored include Germany, Italy, France and the UK. According to Ms Alieva, the UK is the only country of the five that is bucking the trend. She said that this growth should continue to increase due to promotions and campaigns from both retailers and brands.

Euromonitor data suggests volumes of fish and seafood sold in the UK rose by 3% for the third year in a row and that per capita consumption has increased from 10.6kg in 2010 to 11.5kg in 2015. We, at Callander McDowell, find these figures rather surprising because the main consumption trend we follow shows movement in the opposite direction.

We recently discussed consumption following the publication of data from Seafish showing that only parts of the food service sector in the UK is showing growth whilst everything else is in decline, including visits to fish and chip shops. We believe that the reason for this confusion results from different interpretations of what is included in the data and what is not. Fish and seafood consumption can be recorded as including, canned, fish, frozen, coated, meals, natural for home consumption and eating out. This combined data can show impressive consumption levels but do not really reflect the key trends. We are most interested in sales of natural fish and seafood for home consumption. This trend is definitely in decline and for us is the most worrying. It would be even worse if it were not for the availability of fresh and chilled salmon, which has kept many a fish counter afloat.

We were interested to see a TV programme on the BBC: Rip Off Britain -Food, which looked at the freshness of cod, haddock and fish pie mix from 4 major supermarkets. The quality of some of the fish sold was questioned by the presenters but they did not offer any realistic explanation. We believe that the quality of some fish counter fish is being compromised by the fact that consumers are not buying fish, yet stores need to keep counters stocked simply for show. If they reduced the offering, which some do during the earlier days in the week, then shoppers are deterred from visiting at all because the absence of sufficient fish makes the counters less appealing.

The problem for the fish industry is that heads are being buried in the sand instead of facing up to the issues. One reason why declining consumption is not given more publicity is that many sales are now expressed in terms of value rather than volume and whilst volumes are in decline, value has increased. Everything is therefore OK.


Sign to the Times: The London Times newspaper reports that the Marine Stewardship Council is tainted by conflicts of interest over the millions of pounds it earns from its eco-label according to a new confidential report

The Times says that the report reveals that the MSC has ‘troubling systematic flaws’ in it certification scheme and that the MSC uses ‘questionable practices’ which have weakened the rules meant to prevent overfishing and can make it easier for unsustainable fisheries to gain the coveted blue tick.

The report continues to say that circumstantial evidence suggests that the MSC has ‘financial interests in certification outcomes’ and this creates conflicts with the MSC’s role as an independent and impartial standard setting body.

It may come as a surprise to those in the fisheries industry that this ‘confidential’ report, that is clearly not now so confidential, is described as a draft internal document that has not been reviewed, fact checked or balanced by divinities of opinion does in fact emanate from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The WWF were responsible for establishing the MSC and remain one of its largest stakeholders.

David Hirsch of WWF told IntraFish that the document was mishandled in draft form and never intended to be made public and will not be in future. However, IntraFish have managed to obtain a copy and have posted it on line – What is clear from looking at this report, is that, it is far from what can be described as a draft. The document is a highly-polished report complete with title page, photos, and references. It even has copyright statements, headings, tables and the contact details for further information – Alfred Schumm at To suggest that this document has not been reviewed or fact checked is clearly intended to minimise its importance. It may not have been intended for general publication but now it is in the public arena, it can be clearly seen for what it is. IntraFish published the document under the heading ‘Read the report that the MSC do not want you to see’ but we don’t think that the issue is really about the MSC. Instead, we think that it is the WWF that would not want the document to be publicised with its attacks on the organisation it spawned.

wwf tuna

It may not have been meant for publication but what it shows is the discontent behind the MSC blue tick. Rupert Howes of the MSC said that it is not an official expression of WWF’s opinion and shouldn’t be characterised as such. However, regardless of what is said now, someone at WWF thought it was important enough to warrant releasing it to the Times newspaper.

The confidential document focuses on the process for objecting to certifications by independent stakeholders. According to the Times, up to July 2015 there had been 19 objections but only one has been upheld. The suggestion is that the financial rewards of certification, 0.5% of wholesale value which nets the MSC about £12 million per year, could be a factor in the decision to grant certification.

According to the Times, The WWF reportedly say that the MSC is now targeting the tuna industry to boost logo licensing revenue and this includes fisheries where vessels use destructive fishing practices.

WWF say that they have objected to certification of tuna fisheries in the Indian Ocean due to a complete absence of harvest control rules but the assessors and the MSC’s technical oversight team concluded otherwise leading the WWF to say that this was a clear case of misapplication of the MSC fisheries standard, adding that this had undermined confidence in the MSC.

The Times reports that tuna fishing companies were keen to attain MSC certification in order to counter claims that they are fishing unsustainably. Tesco has removed cans of John West tuna from their shelves after negative publicity and since then John West have been working towards MSC certification to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable fishing. They have partnered with WWF UK, a separate arm of the charity that produced the report about the MSC to help them achieve certification.

We, at Callander McDowell, have written previously of our concerns about the WWF. They clearly have a vision for the future of fisheries and aquaculture which they want the respective industries to adopt. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little discussion as to whether these are the best strategies to take these industries forward or whether they are the best strategies for the WWF. For example, there seems to be little transparency as to the people who are behind these strategies within WWF or whether the influence comes from elsewhere. We are reminded of the many millions of dollars that were invested by large charitable foundations to try to sway market demand away from farmed salmon. Is it possible that the huge funding of the marine environmental sector is conditional on achieving certain goals that the public knows nothing about?

In our opinion, the motivation for this leaked ‘confidential’ report is that the MSC certification programme is not going the way that the WWF had expected when they established the MSC along with Unilever many years ago. We suspect that whilst MSC was supposedly an independent organisation, it was supposed to follow the WWF script. Instead, they have certified tuna fisheries that the WWF appear to have deemed as failing an acceptable level of sustainability for certification. However, their view of this may be clouded by their partnership with John West.

John West have published a great deal of information about the partnership on their website. They first signed the partnership with WWF in 2014 with the aim of achieving certification by 2018. Given the amount paid by farming companies in Australia to the WWF there to help them achieve certification, it seems likely that the WWF are also in a lucrative contract with John West and its parent company.

We suspect that the WWF would not be happy, if they were taking John West through every detail of the road to certification in the minutest detail whilst other fisheries being certified by a cheaper and less circuitous route. In our opinion, it could be the reason for the objections they have made about other certifications as detailed in their report.

In addition, given these financially rewarding private arrangements, it does seem strange that they should accuse the MSC of certifying fisheries simply to benefit from the resultant logo licensing.

One of the surprising aspects to the John West website is that WWF UK have also set out their stall. Glyn Davies, Executive Director of Global Programmes writes that the partnership with John West is part of engagement with several influential retailers and producers in the UK and Europe, who have a shared vision of developing sustainable fisheries worldwide. Mr Davies says that their long-term goal is to ensure that all seafood in Europe sold by John West and its sister companies is Marine Stewardship Council certified.

Surely by questioning the ethics of the MSC through their leaked confidential report is a sure fire way of instilling confidence in both the MSC and those who have invested in MSC certification.

However, what most struck us about the presentation on the John West website was that the progress report is headed with a WWF Panda logo. This is the same logo that WWF Australia licensed for use of packs of farmed salmon. We can only wonder why, if WWF are so dissatisfied with the way that MSC are managing certifications, they don’t just use their own labels on certified fish. At least consumers would be more aware of the logo than they are of the MSC.

What makes these leaks and accusations harder to accept is the recent news from that the Esperanza, Greenpeace’s largest ship sailed up the River Thames to Tower Bridge in central London and unfurled banners demanding that British supermarket Sainsbury’s ‘stop killing our oceans’. The Greenpeace ship had just sailed from the Indian Ocean where it had been exposing the destructive fishing practices used to catch tuna. Greenpeace were now calling on Sainsbury’s to remove the unsustainable tuna brand of John West from its shelves. This is the same John West that has been working closely with the WWF to certify their fishing practices. Clearly Greenpeace are not impressed with this collaboration.

Sainsbury’s responded by saying that they shared Greenpeace’s goals and therefore they were disappointed that they were the sole focus of this campaign. They were watching to see the results of the John West – WWF collaboration and they would reconsider their relationship if the targets are not met.

What is apparent from this web of relationships is that whatever good intentions may drive the wish to be seen to be sustainable, in some eyes it is never enough. As a result, it seems that it is just not the fisheries that are being exploited.