The catering industry needs to check that it buys seafood from a reputable supplier if it wants to avoid purchasing unsafe, poor quality or illegal stock.
That was the joint warning from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), and Food Standards Agency (FSA) together with the British Hospitality Association (BHA) after it emerged that cod, skate and bass are all being sold illegally around the country.
The trio are working to raise awareness of laws around the purchasing of fish and shellfish products. It suspects that fish caught from unlicensed, unregistered fishing vessels, shellfish harvested from unsafe areas and protected juvenile lobsters and crabs are being offered for sale direct to the industry.
Under the Registration of Buyers and Sellers (RBS) Scheme 2005, which is enforced in England by the MMO it is a criminal offence to buy fish caught from a boat which is not licensed or registered for commercial fishing. The scheme aims to help fisheries administrations to keep track of the amount of fish species being landed and sold. It also increases traceability of fish, in turn helping the catering industry to obtain the freshest produce.
The MMO also co-ordinates monitoring of wild fish products imported into the UK, estimated at around £1.6 billion of fish per annum.
Rod Henderson, head of coastal operations for the MMO, said: "Caterers should be conscious of the trade in illegal fish caught and sold from unlicensed and unregistered boats. Such supply chains can have a negative impact - both on the price and availability of a wider range of fish for customers. They can also affect fish stocks, a resource we want to protect for future generations.
"We are currently investigating instances of recreational sea anglers fishing for cod on boats off the Yorkshire coast which it's been alleged they've been selling to care homes. We have also had reports of people catching skate and selling this direct to restaurants and cafes on the South East coast. Bass is another species which is also reported to us as being offered for sale illegally, particularly on the South coast.
"If anyone suspects similar activity I'd urge them to let their local MMO office know."
The FSA is responsible for monitoring the shellfish harvesting industry and classifying safe shellfish harvesting areas.
Linden Jack, head of the Food Hygiene Policy Branch of the FSA, said: "Shellfish bought from illegal sources will not have been subjected to the checks that ensure it is fit for human consumption. Shellfish from approved beds are monitored to ensure they meet standards for microbiological contamination, including E.coli and Salmonella, chemical contamination, as well as algal toxins. Consumers will therefore have no guarantee that illegally harvested shellfish is free from such contamination and are risking their health if they eat it."
John Dyson, food and technical affairs advisor for the British Hospitality Association, added: "It is important that caterers are able to trace the provenance of all the seafood they use. If they have any doubts, they should ask about the source of supplies and report any suspicious activity to either the MMO or the FSA."
By Neil Gerrard
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