Fishing boat Fish trawler

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The WBA estimates 20% of the world’s catches originate from illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) fishing

Some of the world’s largest seafood companies continue to lack transparency around their social and environmental impacts, a new study claims.

Big seafood companies including Trident, Bolton and Cargill are still failing to “set credible targets and report progress more transparently” across environmental, traceability and social issues, according to the World Benchmarking Alliance, which has assessed 30 of the most influential businesses in the industry.

This is WBA’s third assessment of the sector since its initial 2019 Seafood Stewardship Index, which assesses major fishing and aquaculture companies, seafood brands, seafood processors and aquaculture feed companies on their social and environmental impacts, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This year’s data showed only 16% of the benchmarked companies set strong sustainability targets. Meanwhile, less than a quarter have the target of sourcing 100% of their seafood from environmentally sustainable sources.

Helen Packer, WBA’s Seafood Stewardship Index lead, said: “Companies’ first priority should be assessing their risk and impacts. Currently, many still don’t seem to know their impacts. Understanding impacts however is key to inform decisions towards actions that will lead to a fairer and more sustainable future.”

Packer said a growing number of companies were committing to traceability, but that “for these commitments to carry weight, businesses must be more transparent about how they are implemented”.

The WBA estimates 20% of the world’s catches originate from illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) fishing, which drives overfishing and environmental degradation.

But only three of the benchmarked companies assessed IUU risks in their operations and supply chain – and none disclosed the results of their risk assessments.

Another key issue in the fishing industry is around poor labour conditions – workers are often isolated on fishing vessels at sea for long periods of time, and there is a high level of reliance on migrant workers who cannot always advocate for themselves.

Waitrose recently committed to tackling abuse of overseas workers in the fishing sector by sponsoring a series of educational videos aimed at better informing migrant labourers about the nature of working in the UK fishing industry.

The WBA has seen improvements in human rights due diligence, as well as companies increasing their share of sustainable seafood and some moves towards implementing the Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability (GDST) standards. However, the progress “has been slow and insufficient”, it said.

“We’ve been assessing the global seafood industry for four years, and while we can celebrate some progress, not enough has been done,” Packer said. “The seafood industry must act faster, and stakeholders must hold companies to account.”