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Asda has won praise from three leading marine conservation charities after made a “breakthrough” commitment to protect endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) marine species from being accidentally killed in fisheries that supply it with seafood.

The commitment, developed following consultation with Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, BirdLife International and Whale & Dolphin Conservation, will see Asda work to address the loss of sealife such as sharks, turtles, seabirds and dolphins through bycatch – the incidental capture of animals in fishing.

In particular, the retailer has committed to address the problems of bycatch in tuna fisheries and to avoid the sale of seafood caught in gillnets where possible.

Asda’s pledges include adopting a procurement policy that “requires best practices are implemented to reduce harm to ETP species”, including a requirement for appropriate observer coverage (electronic or in-person) to be introduced over a meaningful timescale.

The retailer will also adopt a presumption against sourcing seafood products caught with gillnets “except under very limited circumstances”. This measure was taken because of the “very high risk to whales, dolphins and other ETP species from gillnets”, Asda said.

The supermarket will also support technological innovation in reducing accidental harm to ETP marine species, and will adopt “strict requirements around catch technology, best practices in mitigation, observer coverage on boats and the treatment of sharks”.

It would also support “ambitious requirements that observer coverage on all types of tuna vessels should be at least 20% within five years, with a goal of achieving 100% coverage in the long term”, it said.

“Asda already takes measures with regard to protecting ETP species in fisheries but we understand there is a case for going further,” it added. The commitments will be rolled out during 2021.

They represented “the start of a global initiative to mobilise supermarkets and food brands to require that the seafood they sell only comes from fisheries that use best practices in protecting vulnerable marine wildlife”, said the three environmental NGOs.

“Asda has consistently demonstrated leadership in pioneering sustainable seafood and protecting the marine environment,” added Blake Lee-Harwood, chief programs officer at the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.

“We hope this initiative will be the first of many commitments by retailers and brands worldwide and that we see a step change in how the seafood sector addresses the impacts of fishing on marine wildlife. We look forward to a close collaboration with Asda to tackle these urgent challenges.”

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