With poor labour practices in the fishing industry in the headlines, Seafish is working on giving suppliers a new tool to reassure retailers about ethical working conditions in their fish and seafood supply chains.

The trade body is looking to expand its responsible fishing scheme to include standards for fishermen’s welfare on issues such as pay, safety and working conditions. Accredited vessels would be audited every three years.

Trials had already taken place and Seafish hoped to officially launch the new scheme by September, said technical director Tom Pickerell. “Fishing is a dangerous industry, and we believe that our scheme could mitigate risk for fishermen without compromising our existing principles on sustainability.”

The scheme would initially focus on UK vessels in UK and international waters, but Seafish hoped to have it ISO-accredited so that it could also be expanded to protect workers on foreign vessels, Pickerell said.

The move comes as the industry is facing growing scrutiny over working conditions. Last year, allegations emerged that Filipino workers were being exploited on Scottish vessels, and this week a report by The Guardian alleged prawns supplied to major UK retailers were produced under slave labour conditions in Thailand.

“The scheme offers a way of mitigating against this happening in the UK and we know that retailers and supermarkets are keen for the responsible fishing scheme to take on board this element exactly because of stories such as this,” said Pickerell.

The Seafish responsible-fishing scheme was launched in 2006 and accredits some 600 UK vessels against a range of sustainability criteria, including fishing practices and environmental standards.