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McDonald’s, M&S, Birds Eye Sign Landmark Commitment to Protect Key Arctic Region from Cod Fishing

Leading seafood brands, major UK retail chains and some of the world’s largest fishing companies have struck a groundbreaking deal to protect a key Arctic region from industrial fishing for cod.

In a joint statement, companies including McDonald’s, Tesco, Birds Eye, Young’s Seafood, Icelandic Seachill and Europe’s largest frozen fish processor, Espersen, have said their suppliers will refrain from expanding their cod fisheries further into pristine Arctic waters while scientific research into this largely unexplored marine environment takes place. From the catching sector, Fiskebåt — representing the entire Norwegian oceangoing fishing fleet — and Russian Karat Group have also signed onto this historic agreement.

“This is a major step in the right direction. This unprecedented alliance have taken a stand for the fragile Arctic environment, and set an important precedent for other industries eyeing up this region,” said Greenpeace UK campaigner Daniela Montalto. “The challenge for these companies is now to deliver on their commitment to Arctic protection and show real results out on the water. The melting ice should be a stark warning of the dangers of climate change, not an opportunity to plunder this fragile ecosystem.”

The news follows Greenpeace’s report, This Far, No further, which highlighted concerns that the sea ice melt due to climate change has the potential to allow fishing boats to operate in previously unfished areas around the Svalbard Archipelago, running the risk of harming vulnerable marine habitats. Greenpeace’s investigation showed that as fishing fleets using bottom trawling gear are advancing into pristine areas previously covered by ice, major food brands and retailers around the world were at risk of sourcing products tainted with Arctic destruction. Upon the report’s release in February, Greenpeace called on fishing companies to stop fishing in the northern Barents Sea and the waters around Svalbard, and for retailers, food brands and processors to no longer use suppliers that engage in destructive fishing in these waters.

The new agreement, which spans the whole Arctic cod supply chain from sea to shelf and covers an area twice the size of France, was brokered by Greenpeace. It marks the first time the seafood sector has voluntarily imposed limitations to industrial fishing in the Arctic. This means that any fishing companies operating in these pristine Arctic waters will not be able to sell their cod to the brands supporting this agreement.

Signatories of the commitment:

  • Asda
  • Espersen
  • fiskebat
  • Icelandic Seachill
  • Karat
  • Marks & Spencer
  • McDonald’s
  • Morrisons
  • Nomad Foods Europe
  • Sainsbury’s
  • The Saucy Fish Co.
  • Tesco
  • Young’s Seafood Limited

According to Greenpeace, the latest satellite observations indicate that Arctic sea ice loss could be more dramatic this year than ever before. With sea ice levels at record lows, large areas of water are left open for longer periods, making the need for legal protection to replace the protective ice shield even more urgent. The region, which includes the Svalbard archipelago, also known as the “Arctic Galapagos,” is home to vulnerable species, including polar bears, bowhead whales and Greenland sharks. The swathe of Barents Sea covered by the agreement is adjacent to major fishing grounds where at least 70 percent of all the Atlantic cod that ends up on dinner plates around the world is sourced.

Currently, there is no law in place to protect Arctic areas previously covered by sea ice. In the absence of political action by the Norwegian Government, Greenpeace welcomes the temporary stop-gap this agreement represents. But the environmental group is also calling on the Norwegian government to wake up to the urgent need to bring legally binding protection to these areas*.

“The Norwegian government must now acknowledge the growing resistance to reckless exploitation of the fragile Arctic environment, not only from the millions of people around the world who want the Arctic protected but also from the corporate world,” Montalto added. “Now is the time to take concrete steps towards legal protection of Svalbard and the northern Barents Sea so that Norway can meet its international obligation for marine protection.”

The cod and haddock fisheries in the Barents and Norwegian Sea are considered to be some of the best-regulated fisheries in the world and are independently certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). In order to safeguard the sustainability of these fisheries, fishermen have now agreed the need to take a precautionary approach to fishing in previously unfished areas and to take further steps to protect vulnerable marine life in the areas where they currently operate.
The agreement, which is in force immediately, will mean that fishermen will not expand their cod-fishing activities with trawl gear into previously unfished areas until robust and independent scientific research demonstrates that it will not cause serious harm to the marine environment. The agreement also commits that fishermen will accelerate their current plans to ensure that the fishery is condition-free under the MSC certification — the highest possible standard of fisheries sustainability — by strengthening their work to identify and avoid vulnerable marine ecosystems, including coral and sea pens.

The agreement also makes possible the formation of a Roundtable in which government agencies, scientists, NGOs and industry will work together to develop a plan for how the long-term sustainability of cod fishing in the Barents Sea can be maintained.

*******Norway is internationally obliged through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to protect at least 10 percent of its marine areas by 2020, but is falling drastically short with less than 1 percent protected so far. As part of an ongoing political process, on 23rd May the Norwegian parliament asked the Norwegian government to come up with a plan for marine protection.

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