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Fish – dispelling the myths

If you believed everything you read in the popular press and saw on television, you would think that the North Sea is almost void of fish, that fishermen routinely chuck more fish back into the sea than they keep on board and that cod is an endangered species. EC recently attended a trade conference at Billingsgate Seafood School, London where delegates from all over the world were ‘Celebrating Sustainable Fish and Shellfish’ and, to a man, railing against the inaccurate representation in the media of their thriving industry

Photographer Johan Wildhagen. Image courtesy of Norwegian Seafood Council

FishingImage courtesy of Norwegian Seafood Council

In 2011, UK vessels landed 600,000 tonnes of seafood worth £828 million. In the same year, 85% of the seafood we ate was imported; a total of 718,000 tonnes worth £2.55 billion. At first sight, there would appear to be a discrepancy in the figures, however – due to consumers’ tastes – the UK actually exports most of the seafood it catches. In 2011, just over 435,000 tonnes of seafood (comprising largely langoustine, crab and mackerel) worth £1.46 billion was exported from the UK.

Only 2.5% of the seafood we eat comes from the North Sea, 12.5% from other UK waters and the rest is imported: cod, haddock and other whitefish from Iceland, Norway and Denmark; warmwater prawns from India and the Far East; tuna from Mauritius and the Seychelles; salmon from the Faroe Islands and Norway; salmon and pollack from the USA; coldwater prawns from Greenland and Canada.

Clearing the water

Many consumers are worried about eating cod, or wild-caught fish of any species, when in fact it is perfectly possible to eat these fish with a clear conscience, provided that they come from a sustainably managed source. EC asked Andy Gray, Marketing and Promotions Department at Seafish for some definitive answers on the state of our seas.

EC: Sustainability is a word that is used a lot these days. With reports in the media about the sustainability of global fish stocks, what is a sustainable fishery?

AG: Essentially, a well-managed and sustainable fishery protects the fish and the environment in which they live, while allowing responsible use of the species that come from it. A sustainable fishery is one where the target fish populations are judged to be at healthy levels (this can be the case even if they are still ‘recovering’ from having been depleted in the past). A well-managed fishery will ensure that there is a future for the industry and all those who depend on the fisheries for their livelihoods.

EC: Cod is one of the most popular fish sold in the UK. If cod is seriously depleted in the North Sea and is not thought to be sustainable, why is it still being served?

AG: Most of the cod we eat is actually from outside our own waters – only a small amount of the cod we eat is caught in the UK, and that cod is caught under strict management regimes.

The vast majority of cod consumed in the UK is caught in the icy clear Arctic waters of the Barents Sea and Iceland where stringent measures have ensured good management of cod stocks. Cod quotas have also been increased in recent years in these regions.

Fisherman with catchImage courtesy of Norwegian Seafood CouncilEC: Haddock is another popular fish in the UK; how and where is it sourced?

AG: Haddock is sourced from two main areas; haddock from the Barents Sea and Iceland is subject to exactly the same stringent management regimes as cod. Haddock that is landed into Scotland from the North Sea is sourced from stocks that are extremely plentiful and managed accordingly.

EC: With so many other fish to try, what can foodservice operators and retailers do to encourage consumers to try something different, and how can suppliers support this?

AG: Seafish encourages consumers to be more adventurous and try a wider range of seafood – many customers have never tried anything other than cod or haddock and are simply unaware of what other similar species are available. Trying something different helps reduce the pressure on more traditional species and also helps to vary the diet – there is a huge variety of different vitamins and minerals found in different species of seafood. Local fish merchants can advise on regional preferences and suggest particular fish to trial. On most days of the year there are over 100 different species of seafood available to enjoy throughout the UK.

In the future, changing fish patterns could lead to changes in fish and seafood supplies at certain times of the year, and increased market prices. Inevitably, cod and haddock will remain popular choices, but foodservice operators and retailers should be enthusiastic in their promotion of other species, such as sea bass, langoustine, hake, mussels, pollack, coley and lemon sole.

Fisherman with catchEC: How can operators find out more about the fish they are selling and whether the stocks are sustainable?

AG: There are a number of sources for information on the status of fish stocks. These are mostly web-based (see below). Seafish has also produced a series of guides that outline the status of the main fish stocks used in the UK. These detail where to get information on stock status, describe the measures being taken to conserve these stocks, and highlight which fish to use and which are best to avoid. These can be found at seafish.org

EC: What is the fishing industry doing to guarantee a healthy, sustainable future for the fisheries around our coast?

AG: The fishing industry in the UK has undergone huge change in recent years. Measures include voluntary closure by the fishing fleet of areas around our coast to protect stocks; huge growth in certification of sustainable fisheries by the Marine Stewardship Council; more robust seafood sourcing policies from foodservice operators and our large retailers giving consumers confidence when they are buying fish; and massive strides within industry towards managing our fisheries for a healthy future.

Top 10 species by value and volume in the retail sector

Data to 21 July 2012

  Value Volume
Salmon 1 2
Tuna 2 1
Cod 3 3
Haddock 4 4
Warmwater Prawns 5 6
Coldwater Prawns 6 8
Mackerel 7 7
Pollack 8 5
Scampi 9 10
Sardines 10 9

Further Information

For further information on the fish you are selling and whether it is sustainable, visit the following:

  • The North Sea ‘Cod Recovery Plan’
  • The Marine Stewardship Council The MSC’s certification program and seafood ecolabel recognise and reward sustainable fishing. Working with fisheries, seafood companies, scientists, conservation groups and the public they promote the best environmental choice in seafood. Their credible standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability seek to increase the availability of certified sustainable seafood.
  • Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme
  • Marine Conservation Society The MCS’s Good Fish Guide and Fishonline offer a wide variety of advice regarding sourcing sustainable seafood.
  • Good Catch The Good Catch initiative provides practical information and events for chefs, caterers and restaurateurs, assisting them to make informed decisions regarding serving more sustainable seafood.

Seafish was founded in 1981 by an Act of Parliament and supports all sectors of the seafood industry for a sustainable, profitable future. It is the only pan-industry body offering services to all parts of the seafood industry, including catching and aquaculture, processors, importers, exporters and distributors of seafood and restaurants and retailers. www.seafish.org.uk

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