In the midst of a year marked by unprecedented high temperatures and destructive heatwaves in our oceans, environmentalists, grocery stores, and even artists like Icelandic musician Björk have raised concerns about the dwindling numbers of wild fish in our seas.
According to Oceana, an NGO in the US, approximately half of the largest wild fish populations in Britain, such as North Sea cod, are either overfished or in a critical state. The UK, Norway, and EU have received criticism from supermarkets for failing to come to an agreement on sustainable mackerel fishing. Another charity, Blue Marine Foundation, is taking legal action against the UK government for not following scientific recommendations on shared fish stocks with the EU and Norway, resulting in the depletion of these populations.
The well-being of raised fish and the effects of the fish farming business have both suffered. Chris Packham, a naturalist and broadcaster, urged for a stop to the “disastrous” growth of the Scottish salmon farming industry after the Guardian reported an all-time high in farmed salmon mortality. The majority of salmon sold in British supermarkets are raised on farms.
Earlier this month, a group of experts evaluated wild fish populations and discovered that almost 25% are in danger of becoming extinct, with wild Atlantic salmon facing growing threats.
What types of fish should we avoid eating in 2024 and what should we be consuming instead?
Charlotte Coombes, the manager of the good fish guide at the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), states that unsustainable seafood poses a significant danger to our oceans. The most recent edition of the guide, released in October, gave the highest “green” status to only one out of eight UK fish and deemed only 13% as a sustainable option.
Coombes suggests that consumers should inquire about “what, where, and how” when it comes to seafood – specifically, the species, location of catch, and method of catch. She recommends beginning with a simple change by replacing the “big five” seafood options with others.
On average, people in Britain consume one portion of fish per week, with 80% of that coming from only five types of fish. The top choices are cod and haddock, commonly used in fish and chip meals, followed by salmon, tuna, and prawns.
According to Coombes, implementing a basic “swap” could alleviate the stress on a small group of preferred favorites. This would decrease the demand for unsustainable fishing and farming methods.
Swap store – alternative purchases to the major five
Cod, a popular fish in the UK, is typically found in cold waters and caught in the wild. However, as ocean temperatures continue to rise, their populations have been declining. According to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), cod stocks in the UK are currently in poor condition and should be avoided. The positive development is that the numbers in the North Sea are slowly rising thanks to fishing limitations, but their sustainability is still uncertain.
According to the MCS guide, Hake that has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue tick is now considered a sustainable option due to effective management and favorable environmental factors.
Haddock is a popular choice at chip shops and is usually caught in a sustainable manner from the wild. However, certain haddock populations are decreasing and since they share habitats with cod, fishing for haddock can also result in catching cod. To support sustainability, it is recommended to avoid purchasing haddock under 30cm in size and to buy it fresh outside of the March and April breeding season, according to MCS.
Top pick for Haddock sourced from the North Sea, Scotland, Iceland, or Norway, or that is MSC-certified.
Sustainable swap Plaice from the North Sea, where populations are thriving.
The number of wild Atlantic salmon has decreased by 23% worldwide and they are no longer found in several rivers in the UK. These declines can be attributed to loss of habitat, climate change, and dams. The interbreeding of escaped farmed salmon also poses a threat to wild populations. The presence of sea lice from salmon farms also contributes to the issue. Due to these factors, the wild Atlantic salmon is now considered “near threatened” and should be avoided, according to the fish guide.
The top option is Pacific wild salmon from Alaska, available in pink, red, or keta. Look for organic options or those certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council with a green tick, according to MCS.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) suggests that choosing sustainably farmed rainbow trout from UK ponds is a positive substitute.
This apex predator can reach a maximum length of three meters. There are numerous species, and MCS suggests consulting their Good Fish Guide to determine which are more environmentally responsible. Steer clear of Pacific and Southern bluefin tuna, Indian Ocean yellowfin, and tuna caught using gillnets or drift nets.
The top option is tuna, either Skipjack or albacore, caught using pole and line or trolling methods, with artificial lures and barb-free lines to reduce bycatch.
Sustainable swap Sardines from south-west England.
Prawns from various locations around the globe can have sustainable fishing practices depending on the type of species and the methods used to catch them.
The top option is wild, cold-water prawns sourced from the north-east region of the Arctic. Additionally, prawns that are farmed and labeled as organic, or have an MSC or ASC label, are recommended according to the fish guide. Another good choice are Scottish langoustines caught using creels.
Do not purchase uncertified king and tiger prawns from Vietnam, Indonesia, or India.
According to the fish guide, rope-grown mussels from the UK are considered one of the most environmentally-friendly seafood options.