Risky Seafood Business, Understanding the Global Footprint of UK's Seafood Consumption

Resource type:
Reports and discussion papers

In recent years, the role of seafood or the ‘blue food’ as alternative animal protein has also been investigated, amid concerns over the impacts of landbased animal protein consumption to our planet.18 While the potential benefit of eating more seafood is recognised, to date there is no comprehensive analysis to understand the collective footprint of the UK’s seafood consumption on global biodiversity loss, climate change, and their associated risks on nature and people.

The purpose of this report is to fill this gap by providing a high-level, robust and replicable assessment of the global (both domestic and international) environmental and social footprint of the UK’s seafood production and consumption. This report then provides evidence, analysis and recommendations to UK governments, businesses and consumers to further improve seafood sustainability and help achieve a reduction in that footprint, and in turn help tackle our nature and climate crises.

Key Findings

This report analyses the footprint risks of 157 seafood supply chains across the eight most popular seafood groups. The quantity of seafood being eaten in the UK is estimated and the footprint of the UK’s domestic seafood production is compared with producing countries that export seafood to the UK. This report also identifies key areas to address and mitigate the risks of the UK’s global seafood footprint. Key findings are:

  • The UK consumed 887,000 tonnes of seafood in 2019, equivalent to 5.2 billion portions of fish and chips. Nevertheless, the average UK consumption of fish is only a half of the government-recommended two portions of fish a week.
  • 81% of seafood by volume eaten in the UK is imported from overseas, but there are no environmental or social regulatory criteria set for imported seafood apart from ensuring the wild-caught seafood is from a legal source. 
  • 70% of our domestic seafood production is exported overseas, but 3 the new Fisheries Act (2020) does not yet have measurable sustainability targets. Additionally, the UK has a higher seafood footprint than some of our neighbouring countries in the Northeast Atlantic but lower than those countries in Africa and Asia.
  • Tuna, swordfish, warm-water prawns, squid and some crab species have the highest environmental and social footprint, while mussels and small pelagic fish (e.g. herring) have the lowest footprint. 
  • Certification alone does not guarantee endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species are free from threats associated with seafood production. The UK’s seafood demand directly impacts at least 253 ETP species like birds, sharks and rays, and aquatic mammals and puts their survival at risk. Taking account of the overlapping of natural habitats of these species with fishing and fishfarming activities, the number of potentially affected ETP species increases to a staggering 528. 
  • Footprint risk indicators including human rights abuses and slow progress on sustainability certification are also urgent issues to address in reducing the UK’s global seafood footprint, followed by other footprint risk indicators concerning fish stock health, ecosystem impacts, management effectiveness, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.


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This resource presents evidence or data but has not been peer reviewed