Supermarket fish buyers are increasingly frustrated by having to rethink their seafood sourcing policies week by week, according to industry insiders.
Their comments came in a week when Morrisons, long regarded by suppliers as the country's most stylish fish retailer, was denounced as 'the UK's worst seafood retailer' by Greenpeace protesters on the roof of its flagship Bradford store.
The multiple said it had made assurances to Greenpeace about its commitment to sustainability. But a Morrisons spokeswoman hit out at a press release that gave the impression of a rapid turnaround on the day of the protest, with executives giving in.
She said: "We have a sustainable fish procurement policy in place and we have confirmed this to Greenpeace. But contrary to the impression given by Greenpeace, we had already stopped selling dogfish, grouper, grey mullet and red fish, among others. Our policy for some time has been to buy from the most sustainable sources, wherever stock is available.
"This approach has resulted in some change to our range over recent months."
The big four multiples have now all made concessions to Greenpeace, but there is growing unease in the industry at the influence of NGOs.
"The pressure is from them and not from consumers. And it takes the form of militancy rather than constructive dialogue with suppliers, regulators and politicians," said one seafood insider.
"The situation is getting ridiculous, with a species OK one week and not the next.
"The supermarkets are worried about upsetting bodies like Greenpeace now because of the damage they can do with negative publicity. And they are rethinking their sourcing strategies. But it takes a long time to source a species with the proper traceability in place. You can't switch overnight."
Kit Davies