The fish fingers sold in most UK supermarkets use white fish caught on Russian ships. Despite many chains promising to boycott Russian products.
While supermarkets took steps to express their solidarity with Ukraine, they rebranded Chicken Kyiv to Kyiv and pulled Russian vodka off the shelves, but continued buying fish.
Big brands like Birds Eye and Young’s and most major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Asda still use Russian fish.
When asked for comment, many followed the British Retail Consortium (BRC). The UK Retail Consortium (BRC) said the UK relied heavily on Russia for its white meat fish, and its “complex supply chain” meant it was “difficult to find other sources”.
Of the major supermarkets, only Marks & Spencer and Waitrose said they had stopped using Russian fish, but Waitrose still has brands that use Russian fish. Tesco and Asda have stopped buying directly from Russian suppliers.
The government announced in March that it would introduce sanctions on Russian white fish, which would impose a 35% tariff on all imports, but the idea was put on hold following industry opinion.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted the sanctions would continue, but said “the specific impacts on this sector are subject to further work”.
“It is unacceptable that British consumers are selling fish fingers caught on Russian ships,” said Steve Trent, CEO of the Environmental Justice Foundation. The government must take urgent action to stop the sale of Russian fish in the UK.”
According to industry group Seafish estimates, more than 30% of white fish sold in the UK is caught on Russian ships.
In 2020, the UK imported 432,000 tonnes of white fish for £780 million, meaning that money going to Russia could potentially exceed £200m.
The UK imports nearly ten times as much cod and haddock as it can catch, consuming 1.5 million fish fingers daily. Fish and Chips restaurants are also heavily dependent on Russian supplies.
Shadow Fisheries Minister Daniel Zeichner said: “Doing everything we can to stand on the side of the Ukrainian people means that President Putin’s effective measures against the Kremlin, including the investigation of products that have not yet been effectively targeted, are This means that sanctions will continue to be strengthened.
“Labor has been putting pressure on the government over the prevalence of Russian fish on UK supermarket shelves and we are disappointed that action is not urgently needed.”
Russia accounts for about 45% of the world’s supply of whitefish, and competition is fierce for other sources, mainly pollack, cod, and cod.
Most of the Russian fish caught are deboned in China or elsewhere and then sold to the UK for processing, making it more difficult for the public to keep track of the supply chain.
Seafish’s Director of Operations, Aoife Martin, said: But it’s not the kind of thing you can pivot easily and quickly. There are no alternative supplies readily available.”
Prices for fish fingers and other processed fish are expected to soar as brands rush to procure white fish from elsewhere.
Andrew Opie, BRC’s Director of Food and Sustainability, said: Seafood uses a complex supply chain and it can be difficult to find alternative sources that are cost-effective and that do not threaten the future of suppliers or violate contracts.
“We are awaiting government comments on sanctions and tariffs, but will evaluate the impact on consumers in terms of price and availability.”
A Birds Eye spokesperson said: “As inflation rises to the cost of living and food for many families amid the highest inflation in 40 years, we continue to provide nutritious and affordable fish products without compromising our commitment to using only certified sustainable fish. We are doing our best to do that.”
Birds Eye said there were no sanctions affecting the fish it purchased and that it is “accelerating existing strategies to find alternative sources of sustainable fish” to address industry-wide challenges.
“We, together with our allies and partners, are applying the largest sanctions ever since Russia’s unprovoked illegal invasion of Ukraine,” Defra said.