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Seafish revamps Responsible Fishing Scheme after previous model 'lost its way'

Trade association hopes to have 1,000 vessels signed up within three years, as Morrisons commits to only sell RFS fish by 2020.

UK trade body Seafish will launch a revamped, remodeled version of its Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) next June, which it hopes will be “more fit for purpose” than its predecessor.

Seafish’s RFS certification was originally launched in 2006, and so far around 400 vessels are currently certified, with 620 engaged in the process, according to Libby Woodhatch, head of advocacy at Seafish.

However, with the new scheme, the hope is this will grow to 1,000 vessels in the next three years.

Speaking at a Seafish event in central London Thursday, Paul Williams, chief executive, said the association was considering scrapping the certification and in 2012 set up a working group to consider its future.

“Although a significant portion of the UK fleet was engaged with the scheme, we were concerned the RFS had lost its way, and we thought about whether it was needed or whether we should scrap it.

“However the external review found that there is an apparent need for the certification, for guidelines for vessels to behave and act responsibly.”

What the review did find was that the current scheme needed modifying and to be made “more fit for purpose” he said.

The main changes to the revamped scheme will include an upgrade to international ISO standards, whereas previously it was only UK-specific. It will become Seafish’s own standard, and will now also include chain of custody, for both traceability and quality, as the supply chain does not stop at the quayside.

The RFS also has a new governance structure, which includes an oversight board made up of representatives from all sectors of the industry including fishermen bodies, primary processors, secondary processors, retailers, foodservice, NGOs.

Beneath this, there is now a technical committee tasked with working out how to implement the scheme appropriately.

Related contentElsewhere, Seafish will also scrap the “one size fits all approach,” and replace it with a more tailored approach, that will take into consideration larger crew handled vessels and smaller single hand vessels.

“The scheme needs to take into account all different vessel types and sectors, and the unit of certification will now also cover both the vessel and the skipper,” said Woodhatch.

The certification’s priority areas include safety, health and welfare, training and professional development, high standards of vessels, treating “fish as food,” and care for the environment.

These factors “will contribute to the long term viability of the industry,” said Woodhatch.

Meanwhile, the RFS will not be in competition with other standards such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), but will learn from them, and complement initiatives they are already doing.

That said, the scheme will remain vessel focused, and will encourage fisherman to act responsibly.

Morrisons to only sell RFS fish by 2020

The first, and so far only, retailer to fully engage with the scheme is Morrisons, who has pledged that by Oct. 31 it will only buy UK-landed fish from RFS registered vessels.

At the moment, 453 of the retailer’s supply chain vessels are certified by RFS, but another hundred are in the process of achieving RFS certification.

“The value chain needs to be managed responsibly,” said Huw Thomas, fisheries and aquaculture manager at the supermarket chain.

According to Thomas, while there is a lot of work being done to manage “in the water” and “off the water” parts of the industry but not much is being done “on the water,” which is much harder to manage and regulate.

At the same time, awareness of various issues happening on fishing boats has been increasing since 2012, he said.

 “There is also widespread awareness of health and safety, so independent certification is needed for vessels, and RFS is the only certification around that can achieve this,” said Thomas.

But Morrisons wants to go one further, and see the international fleet certified, not just the United Kingdom, and not just for human consumption, but for aquaculture feed also.

By 2020, Morrisons is hoping to have its entire supply fleet, including international vessels, certified to RFS standards, or equivalent.

“We want to be able to say that fish, whether caught in the UK, USA, or Vietnam is all caught to standard.”

Thomas said that “once the standards are signed off our hope is that other retailers will join us. A chain between water and on land must be found, and RFS is that link.”

Importance of marketing

To grow the uptake of the scheme, Mike Berthet, purchasing director at M&J Seafood, said Seafish needs to promote and market the scheme better.

“Many fisherman don’t understand the importance of signing up to the scheme, even though it is a no brainer,” Berthet said. “Seafish have to market the scheme properly to all stakeholders.”

As a result, Berthet feels more work needs to be done on external communications into the food service arena and more pressure needs to be placed on food service wholesalers in the UK to publicize the scheme.

M&J Seafoods currently sources from 45 vessels that are in the scheme, but hopes to grow this.

“We need a simple one page plan we can give to fishermen that will show them the benefit of RFS,” Berthet said. “We want RFS on menus, displayed at ports, we want every fisherman to understand it.”

Certification body

Seafish is now in the process of searching for a suitable certification body to manage the scheme and undertake audits, and hopes to gain ISO accreditation and launch the standard in June or July 2015.

The tender process is now open for certification bodies, with the first vessels expected to enter the process in March or April next year.