According to a report from the United Nations, around 90 per cent of global fish stocks are either at risk of being overfished or being overfished, which means we need to reduce our fish consumption, and in the UK, only a third of key fish stock upon which the fishing industry relies are considered to be healthy.
We are all much more aware of the importance of living more sustainable and eco-friendly lives and make informed decisions about our purchases, so we have a look at what fish we should try to avoid, and which we should be eating to help us make decisions to maintain fish stocks.
The fish that we eat the most in the UK, known as ‘the Big Five’ are also the ones at most risk. These are cod, salmon, haddock, tuna and prawns. However, it doesn’t mean that eating these is always unsustainable, as it depends on how they’re sourced.
But with over 150 different species of fish caught in UK waters, we are spoilt for choice! So what fish should we eat?
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Good Fish Guide 2020 uses a five-tiered system to rank fish from ‘best choice’ to ‘fish to avoid’, based on species, location, and the methods used to catch them. Here are the species safe to eat in the UK.
Due to a recovery plan implemented in the 1990s, stocks of Cornish hake have bounced back to sustainability in recent years, proving what a good job well-managed fisheries can do.
Hake is a firm meaty fish, utterly delicious, and similar to cod. It is typically caught with gill-nets, which does have problems with by-catch, but this has been mitigated by the requirement to have ‘pingers’ on all boats over 10 metres to deter dolphins and other cetaceans.
The Cornish Hake Fishery also uses a larger net than required so that smaller, juvenile hake doesn’t get caught. It’s rated a 1 (i.e. one of the most sustainable fish in UK waters) by the MSC.
Mackerel is a great UK fish, and when it’s handline-caught, it is at its most sustainable, as it doesn’t impact the sea bed, and has no problems with by-catch. However, mackerel was placed on MSC’s red list in 2019, and industrial mackerel fishing has been banned in Cornish waters, so ensure that your mackerel has been handline-caught.
While not ranking as high in the sustainability ratings as Cornish hake and handline-caught mackerel, Dover sole is still quite sustainable and has healthy populations along the southwest coast of the UK, the English Channel and the Irish Sea. However, avoid Dover sole catch methods vary, and there are some issues with by-catch and damage to the sea bed from trawling.
Red Mullet and Red Gurnard
Both these fish suffer from a lack of information on stocks; red gurnard appears healthy, but red mullet stocks are less well known. Both fish have a size restriction on catch and are fished by gill netting and ‘otter’ trawling, which does less damage.
There’s no real shortage of sustainable fish options, but by supporting small-scale UK fishermen, you can help to maintain fish stocks and know that the fish on your plate is sustainably sourced.
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