Buying fish caught from unlicensed vessels is unsustainable and could land you in trouble, says Rod Henderson of the Marine Management Organisation
The offer of cheap seafood delivered direct from the sea to your door may seem attractive, but can you really be sure this is from a trustworthy source? Buying seafood with questionable provenance may not only have legal implications, it could also be of low quality or unsafe for human consumption.
We are working with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the British Hospitality Association to deliver this important message and to encourage the catering industry to be vigilant about the sources of fish and shellfish they buy.
Fish caught from unlicensed and unregistered fishing vessels, shellfish harvested from unsafe areas and protected juvenile lobsters and crabs are among such produce which we believe may be being offered for sale direct to caterers.
Such supply chains can distort the market and have a negative impact, both on the price and availability of a wider range of seafood. They can also affect fish stocks, a resource we need to protect for future generations.
Under the Registration of Buyers and Sellers Scheme 2005, which is enforced by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), you need to register as a buyer if you purchase first-sale fish or shellfish for commercial use direct from a vessel or agent. The scheme makes it a criminal offence to buy fish caught from a boat which is not licensed or registered for commercial fishing.
This is not simply a question of legality however, we want caterers to be sure they are getting top-quality produce and the scheme also aids traceability of fish from the point it was brought ashore.
In the case of shellfish, careful monitoring of shellfish harvesting is carried out by the FSA which approves shellfish beds as safe for human consumption. By buying from an unregistered supplier you would have no guarantee that the produce is free from contamination, such as E coli and salmonella. You could, therefore, be putting your customers' health at risk if they eat it.
Reputable suppliers take great care to ensure the safety and quality of their products and should easily be able to provide information on their source. Caterers should ask if in any doubt. The Fish Register website also provides a list and contact details of registered buyers and sellers of first-sale fish.
More information on the campaign and guidance on the purchasing of seafood is available from www.bit.ly/rbs-campaign.
firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 03001 231032.