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Image of an selection of fish via Flickr / mr_t_in_dc

London 2012 has been billed as the largest peacetime event ever organised while simultaneously striving to be the greenest Games on record. It has ambitious sustainability targets covering waste, transport, water and sustainably-sourced materials and food, including seafood. London 2012 may have the clout to ensure caterers serve only sustainably-sourced fish at the Games, but could this mark a turning point for companies adopting long-term policies on sustainable fish for post-Olympic business?

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and sustainability charity BioRegional recently published a review of London 2012 promises on sustainability, which reveals that in all areas ‘some elements are off-track’. An estimated 82 tons of seafood is expected to be consumed at 34 Olympic and Paralympic venues during London 2012. How do-able is it to source farmed and wild caught fish from sustainable sources?

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) devised a Food Vision in 2009 which specifies that all fish and seafood must be sustainably sourced, by excluding fish that the Marine Conservation Society’s Fish Guide says ‘to avoid’ and by sourcing fish that are Marine Stewardship Council-approved or on the MCS’s list of fish that are ‘ok to eat’. On farms and fisheries not covered by the MCS’s Fish Guide or the MSC, fish must still be ‘demonstrably sustainable’.

There are numerous ways in which seafood can be traced and its sustainability assessed

The MCS explains that ‘demonstrably sustainable’ means buyers must adhere to the Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the new Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) regulations; they must also be sure of ‘fishery sustainability status, seasonality to avoid spawning seasons and the use of a diversity of species (including shellfish)’. There are precious few excuses for not being able to source seafood sustainably. It might sound complicated but there are numerous ways in which seafood can be traced and its sustainability assessed; the MCS has been very specific about the ways in which all of this can be achieved.

For fisheries not covered by the MCS or the MSC, the MCS explains that continual improvement is the only mechanism that will allow fisheries or farms to reach this benchmark. ‘In order to achieve this good practice, improvement projects and accreditation systems must be incentivized, recognised and rewarded with the end goal of reaching the MCS ‘Fish to Eat list’’.

Classic British fish & chips. via Flickr /Oatsy40

Jon Walker, coordinator of Sustainable Fish City, explains how ‘some’ amber rated (‘eat occasionally’) MCS fish might be used but they will be sourced from farms, because there is not much green rated ‘ok to eat’ farmed fish available at the moment. “Where this is being used at the Games, the caterers were asked to use fish from certification systems such as RSPCA Freedom Food, Global GAP and Best Aquaculture Practice” says Walker. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) launched this year and it is hoped that this standard will provide certified sustainable farmed fish but it was too late for the Games. There is currently no commercial availability of ASC-certified fish yet.

It is also hoped that there will be a longer-term impact after the athletes have gone home. James Simpson at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) believes that by using MSC-certified fish at such a high profile event, the London Olympics is helping to put sustainable sourcing at the heart of procurement. “Although in the global scheme of things the volume of fish served won’t be enormous” says Simpson, “its impact on the market and visitors to the games will be felt long after the closing ceremonies. This is a fantastic food legacy for the Games”.

“For some time our energy has been focused on making sure that other organisations follow the Games’ lead and serve sustainable fish” – Jon Walker, Sustainable Fish City

Walker at Sustainable Fish City thinks that the Games have done a really good job on fish but their organisation’s focus is now more on the effects of the Games’ commitment on long-term policies by caterers and companies that buy catering services. “This is the Sustainable Fish Legacy from London 2012” says Walker. “For some time our energy has been focused on making sure that other organisations follow the Games’ lead and serve sustainable fish through our Sustainable Fish City campaign. London 2012 catering companies, that serve 100s of millions of meals every year, have adopted long-term sustainable fish policies”. And when this includes the country’s second largest contract caterer Sodexo, it’s promising to see such strong leadership from among the biggest players.

A fitting legacy for London 2012 would be for all companies and organisations across the UK to buy catering services for meetings and events from companies with a sustainable fish policy.