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Sustain Sustainable Fish Advice

How can recipe kit companies support our oceans?

Over the last decade, a suite of new recipe kit and meal box companies have begun delivering pre-prepared ingredients and recipes to subscribers across the world. The meal kit industry has seen phenomenal growth over that time, and the global market size was valued at USD 7.60 billion in 2019.

The Coronavirus and lockdown of 2020 has seen an explosion in UK consumers choosing meal kits - in April 2020 Gousto revealed that it was delivering 4 million meals to 380,000 UK households each month, and is on course to cross 400 million meals delivered by 2025. Mindful Chef saw demand during lockdown rise 452%.

Fish is a fantastic ingredient for a recipe kit because it is quick to cook and nutritious, and recent studies have found that whilst the British public wants to eat more fish, most don’t meet the recommended 2 portions of fish per week, and a common concern is that they feel they lack the inspiration and skill to do so successfully.

Consumers are incresingly looking for sustainable produce. In a study of more than 25,000 consumers commissioned by the Marine Stewardship Council, 83% said they agree that we need to protect seafood for future generations and are increasingly demanding verification of sustainability claims when they buy food (72% this year compared to 68% in 2016). 70% of seafood consumers worldwide said that they would like to hear more from companies about the sustainability of their seafood. An extensive 2016 study found that consumers trust the claims of ecolabels more than businesses or government.


How can recipe kit companies help?

Our oceans are crucial to our health and the health of the planet but we have lost half the creatures in our oceans since 1970. The biggest threats to our ocean ecosystems are unsustainable fishing, climate change and plastic pollution. We all have a responsibility to look after our marine ecosystems so the next generation will be able to benefit from the rich marine life that our generation has.

Recipe box companies can have the biggest impact on our oceans by serving sustainable fish, using responsible packaging, and minimising their overall impact on the climate emergency, as follows:


1.    Adopt a sustainable fish buying policy.

Your policy can be very simple, but it should be public so your customers can see your commitment. It should set out which fish you will and won’t sell. If you aren’t achieving your policy already, set out a date by which you will. Check out our example seafood policy for inspiration.

Signing the Sustainable Fish Cities pledge. By signing, you will be committing your organisation to take the appropriate steps to buy sustainable seafood, to protect precious marine environments and fish stocks, and good fishing livelihoods. The pledge means that you will be joining hundreds of organisations that are committed to serving sustainable fish. It allows you to be recognised for your efforts, and each pledge contributes to a movement of businesses showing their support for and rewarding sustainable fishing. There’s more information about what you need to do to sign up below.


2.     Gather information and make switches if needed.

Your supplier should be able to provide you with the following information:

  • Whether the fish comes will a sustainability certification
  • WHAT - The common and scientific name of the fish (for example cod, Gadus morhua)
  • WHERE - The stock from which the seafood was caught or the farming country or region in which it was cultivated (for example Northeast Arctic: Barents Sea or Vietnam, Mekong Delta)
  • HOW - The fishing method or aquaculture production method used (for example Demersal otter trawl or land based ponds)

This information can be used to determine the sustainability of the fish, using the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide. To switch to sustainable fish, you should then Avoid the Worst, Promote the Best, and Improve the Rest.


3.    Support the UK fishing industry, especially through some less popular species.

Covid-19 has hit the UK fishing industry very hard and now more than ever, they need the support of fish-selling businesses to buy and promote fish landed in the UK. There’s more information in our blog and in particular, some species that are less popular and sustainably caught in the UK – there’s a list here (scroll down). Buying local is also a very important factor in reducing climate impact and ensuring traceability.


4.    Communicate sustainable fish

Recipe kit providers have a wonderful opportunity to communicate about sustainable fish with customers. There are lots of good general ideas in the Good Catch manual here, but you could also:

  • Add information about the source of fish to recipe cards included with boxes and online
  • Boxes and packaging could carry sustainability information
  • Communicate via subscriber newsletters and emails
  • Run special offers and promotions on sustainable fish options
  • Add information in social media channels

Note – you can only communicate MSC or ASC certified fish if you have ‘Chain of Custody’ certification. Having certification allows you to us the MSC ecolabel on produce and marketing materials, to show you have independent assurance of sustainability.


5.  Tackle plastic pollution

Half of Britons (46%) feel guilty about the amount of plastic they use, and even more (82%) are actively trying to reduce the amount they throw away, according to a new YouGov Custom survey. Two thirds (69%) think all companies should be required by law to use eco-friendly packaging, even if it means prices going up. 

An analysis of consumer attitudes, options for alternatives and some political context is in the 2019 Foodservice Packaging Report from Foodservice Footprint. There are some incredible innovative packaging ideas in this article from Designer Daily magazine



What do I need to do to sign up to the pledge? Do I need to have done everything already?

The pledge is a commitment to adopting a policy to sell only verifiable sustainable fish. Before pledging, you must take one significant action towards putting this policy in place. If you are selling and red-rated fish, your significant action must be to remove it. If not, your significant action could be to switch a significant product to a better source or introduce a new sustainable, locally-sourced fish in a set timeline. If your sourcing is already very good, you can focus your significant action on communication.

After pledging, you must implement the pledge, and therefore switch to sustainable fish with one year of signing.


Is any fish really sustainable? Should we just take fish out of our recipes?

Everything that we eat has an environmental footprint and as a general rule, wild-caught fish stacks up very well compared to other sources of protein because sustainable fishing doesn’t lead to deforestation, or require land, water and pesticides to produce. 80% of the carbon footprint of fishing comes from the fuel used to power the boat, so the least-energy intensive fish to catch are schooling species, including anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel. Of course any fish that is at risk of extinction, or caught using methods that harm other endangered species is a disaster, and that is exactly why it is important to check the sustainability ratings or certification of fish.

For farmed fish, the feed used on farms increases its footprint, so the best are species which are lower on the food chain, including mussels, tilapia and pangasius.


Why are we doing this – shouldn’t companies focus their efforts on climate change and cutting plastic use?

Climate change campaigners, scientists and NGOs acknowledge that biodiversity loss is as great a crisis as the climate emergency and actually that both should be tackled together (see Extinction Rebellion’s asks, for example).

Thriving marine ecosystems are vital for preventing climate change, and vital for feeding people and for the health of our planet. Climate change will place a great deal of stress on our ocean ecosystems, so they need to be as free from damage as possible to make sure they are resilient and able to adapt without many species becoming extinct. That is why it is important to think about overfishing as well as climate change.


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Sustainable Fish: A campaign to protect precious marine environments and fishing livelihoods, and call for fish to be bought from sustainable sources. We want to show what can be done if people and organisations make a concerted effort to change their buying habits.

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