Responding to pressure from environmental groups and consumers, and in the latest of a string of ‘green’ policies, Asda announced yesterday (28 March) that within the next three to five years it will have completely revolutionised the way it sources fish.

Bringing its sustainable fish policy into line with its parent company Wal-Mart, Asda has said that it will only stock wild-caught fresh and frozen fish from fisheries that meet the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) environmental standards.

In the shorter-term, the supermarket operator said it will stop selling swordfish and North Sea cod in an attempt to help preserve these endangered species.

As a result of overfishing, the North Sea has witnessed the dramatic collapse of fish stocks. Asda’s move is a reflection of a growing concern that unless action to conserve North Sea fish is taken now, it will be too late. The retailer has made a commitment to work with the EU Fisheries (DG Fish) and the North Sea Regional Advisory Committee to establish a stock recovery plan for the once plentiful North Sea cod.

The move could make Asda one of the most ethical supermarkets for fish, along side Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. But Asda wants to go a step further. The supermarket is calling for the North Sea to be declared a marine conservation zone, suggesting that commercial fishing in the North Sea should be restricted to local fisherman who use sustainable practices.

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Andy Bond, chief executive at ASDA said: “Our move proves that low prices don’t have to come at any cost. We’ve set ourselves an ambitious target, but we’re determined to meet it.

“Our customers tell us they want to buy their fish with peace of mind. We believe the MSC mark on our products, together with clear, country of origin labelling will give our customers the reassurance they’re seeking.”

Environmentalist organisations, who have staged a prolonged campaign to get supermarkets to change the way they source fish, have welcomed the announcement.

Greenpeace campaigner Oliver Knowles told just-food that the group has been targeting Asda shoppers in order to increase pressure on the supermarket to adopt more environmentally sound policies. This, he said, is part of a broader project to get all supermarkets to sign-up to a sustainable fisheries scheme. Greenpeace had previously targeted Morrisons, who also adopted a sustainable fish policy.

“Supermarkets have realised that this is a live issue, and they are beginning to respond to the publics concerns,” he said, suggesting that the move should be viewed within the context of the widespread adoption of organics and fair trade. Indeed, Asda has even taken to selling sustainable hardwood. “UK supermarkets are operating in a very competitive environment an as a result they are becoming increasingly aware of consumer demand for ecologically sound products.”