Fish fingers containing Russian whitefish still on sale in UK | fishing industry

Fish fingers sold in most British supermarkets use white fish caught by Russian vessels, despite many chains’ pledge to boycott Russian products.

While supermarkets took steps to show solidarity with Ukraine, renaming their chicken kievs to kyivs and removing Russian vodka from shelves, they continued to buy its fish.

Major brands such as Birds Eye and Young’s, as well as most major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, still use fish caught in Russia.

When approached for comment, many referred to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which said the UK was heavily dependent on Russia for whitefish and that “complex supply chains” meant that it was “difficult to find other sources”.

Of the major supermarkets, only Marks & Spencer and Waitrose said they had stopped using Russian-caught fish in their own products, although Waitrose still stocks brands that use it. Tesco and Asda have stopped sourcing directly from Russian suppliers.

The government announced in March that it would introduce sanctions on Russian whitefish, with a 35% tariff on all imports, but the idea was shelved after representations from the industry.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted the sanctions would be enforced, but were “subject to further work on the specific implications for the sector”.

Steve Trent, chief executive of the Environmental Justice Foundation, said: “It is unacceptable that UK consumers are being sold fish sticks captured by Russian ships, unknowingly sending their hard-earned pounds to fund the war machine. of Putin. The government should take urgent action to end the sale of Russian-caught fish to the UK. »

More than 30% of the whitefish on sale in Britain is caught by Russian vessels, according to estimates by industry body Seafish.

In 2020, the UK imported 432,000 tonnes of whitefish worth £778m, meaning the money destined for Russia is likely to exceed £200m.

UK Whitefish Import Chart

Britain imports nearly 10 times the volume of cod and haddock it is able to catch, with 1.5 million fish sticks consumed every day. Fish and chip shops are also heavily dependent on Russian supplies.

Shadow Fisheries Minister Daniel Zeichner said: “Doing everything we can to support the people of Ukraine means ever tougher and more effective sanctions against Putin’s Kremlin, including looking at products that have not yet been effectively targeted.

‘Labour has lobbied the Government on the issue of the commoditization of Russian fish on UK supermarket shelves and we are disappointed at their lack of urgency to act on this.’

Russia accounts for around 45% of the world’s whitefish supply, mainly pollack, cod and haddock, and competition is fierce to find other sources.

Much of the Russian fish caught is then deboned in China or elsewhere before being sold to the UK for processing, making it harder for the public to track supply chains.

Aoife Martin, Chief Operating Officer at Seafish, said: “Many companies have already indicated that they will be looking at alternative products that they could use instead of Russian fish. But it’s not the kind of thing you can walk away from easily or quickly. There is no readily available alternative supply.

As brands scramble to source whitefish elsewhere, the price of fish fingers and other processed fish is set to skyrocket.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at BRC, said: “Russian fish is widely used in the UK food industry, and companies will review their supply arrangements. Seafood uses complex supply chains, and it can be difficult to find alternative sources that are profitable and don’t threaten the future of suppliers or breach contracts.

“We are awaiting news from the government on sanctions and tariffs, but they will assess the impact on consumers in terms of price and availability.”

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A Birds Eye spokesperson said: ‘With the highest inflation in 40 years driving up the costs of food and living for many families, we are doing everything we can to continue providing products. nutritious and affordable fish, without compromising our commitment to using only certified sustainable fish. .”

Birds Eye said no sanctions were in place for the fish it purchased and it was “accelerating our existing strategy to find alternative sources of sustainable fish” to meet an industry-wide challenge .

A Defra spokesperson said: “We, together with our allies and partners, are imposing the most punitive sanctions ever imposed on Russia following its unprovoked and unlawful invasion of Ukraine.”

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