The supermarket chain, which has around 330 stores across the British Isles, defended its policy after confirmation in a letter to a customer that no local wet fish or shellfish products are stocked in its stores in St Helier, St Brelade and St Saviour.
Responding to a query from Islander Andy Jones, Waitrose said that it was ‘almost impossible to arrange for each branch in a coastal area to receive fish from its local area’.
Mr Jones was critical of Waitrose for failing to acknowledge Jersey’s position as a separate jurisdiction and the fact that the Island’s fishing industry was under threat as a result of the ongoing post-Brexit dispute with France.
Other Islanders said Waitrose was ‘missing a trick’ and said customers wanting to support the Jersey fishing industry should buy their fish elsewhere.
A Waitrose spokesperson said: ‘Supporting local businesses is incredibly important to us and we sell almost 600 products from local suppliers in Jersey and Guernsey.
‘We sourced fish locally from a supplier in the Channel Islands for many years, but our supplier [in Guernsey] sold their business and was therefore no longer able to fulfil our orders.
‘We constantly review our ranges to ensure our products meet our customers’ needs and have shared this customer’s feedback with our buying team.’
The support shown to local businesses by Waitrose was highlighted by John Garton, chief executive of Genuine Jersey.
‘It’s definitely fair to say that Waitrose is incredibly supportive of local producers,’ he said. ‘Waitrose has standards in processing and packaging food that they need producers to meet – several land-based producers in Jersey have stepped up to that mark, but the fishing industry doesn’t process its products in a way Waitrose can accept.’
Mr Garton said it was not a question of the quality of local fish being substandard, but a reflection of having a suitable processing facility in place. He hoped such a facility could be established, but admitted efforts to achieve this had not yet been successful.
The Channel Islands Co-operative Society said local fish was on sale at its two Grand Marché supermarkets, with the counter at the St Peter store operated as a concession by a local fisherman while the St Helier outlet sold local crab, lobster and scallops. Chief executive Mark Cox said he was also open to working with any fishermen who wished to sell direct to customers from sites such as car parks adjacent to smaller Co-op stores.
Jez Strickland, founder of the Island’s Alternative Fish Market, said that Jersey’s fishing industry lacked a dedicated processing hub staffed by fully-trained personnel who were conversant in the necessary food and hygiene standards.
‘I do believe that some supermarket protocols could be simplified and stripped down in order to meet our fishermen halfway, should a processing hub gain approval, and funding,’ he said.
Mr Strickland added that since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many Islanders had been buying very fresh fish, direct from boats, and that there was often a ‘huge difference’ between such produce and the fresh fish available at the majority of supermarkets.