With such an abundance of ocean, one would assume that there is an abundance of fish, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case so knowing which fish is best to eat for the planet and sustainability can be a challenge.
Like land mammals, we humans do not see the abundance of the oceans that are present on our planet. In fact, over 70% of the globe is water. The water we are talking about is a vast expanse of saltwater home to billions of living entities, most of which are not visible nor have been discovered by human eyes.
But let’s tail it back and look into the oceans that belong to the UK:
What Constitutes UK Waters?
During 2019, it was estimated that a staggering 502,000 tonnes of fish were landed within the jurisdiction of UK waters, and this is estimated to be worth approximately £850 million!
The UK has primary jurisdiction over its territorial waters, which span from the shores of the UK coastlines to up to 12 nautical miles into the sea in all directions. This guideline is not meant to be specifically territorial, but the policies allow each responsible country to manage its own waters, fishing, and fish stocks.
While we see fish in abundance everywhere in many different disguises, in shops, on markets, and at restaurants, we rarely know the concern of certain species of fish being overfished in response to popularity. Nor do we see the beautiful fish that are under-utilised in the consumer market because they are not as popular as the rest.
Unless, of course, you are fans of celebrity chefs, and you would have seen all manner of people from Gordon Ramsay to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall campaigning for more sustainable fish to be consumed!
Sustainability Over Taste and Popularity?
Well, yes! This should always be the case.
While you enjoy the fish dish of the day or the fish on the bestseller list on every restaurant menu, there is the potential that overfishing to meet the very high demand of these popular fish species will eventually wipe that species out of the seas.
The sustainability of the stocks of fish is based on the number of breeding stocks that are estimated within UK waters (we say estimate because it is challenging to count each fish individually!), and this is monitored for sustainability purposes to make sure certain species don’t get to a critical breeding level and threaten the species.
What Fish Species Are Pulled From UK Waters?
When we look at the species of fish fished in UK waters, we can see that there is a trend when it comes to consumer needs. Thankfully, fishing in UK waters is heavily regulated. The vessels that fish in the seas, the fish quotas, and the price the independent fishermen and women are paid for their catches are also heavily regulated.
What we are concerned with is what species are taken from the UK fishing areas and how sustainable they are for current and future stock levels; the last thing we need is to potentially wipe out a whole species of fish just because it tastes good or it has been made popular for whatever reason.
What Fish Should We Be Avoiding?
There are some species of fish that thrive in UK waters. However, the trends and popularity of that variety lead them to be fished to within an inch of their quota, leaving them at a level that is considered unsustainable.
While the quotas are in place as a measure to protect the specific species, there are still some varieties of fish that, although delicious, run very close to low levels of breeding stocks, so these are the fish that should be avoided, such as:
Cod is considered at unsustainable levels in UK waters, so the alternative is Arctic or Icelandic Cod to preserve UK stocks to a more sustainable breeding level.
Alternative: North Sea Plaice
Whiting has grown in popularity from being a waste fish or used as bait to a delicacy as a starter in restaurants. Small and sweet, this fish used to be found in abundance, but high levels of landing this fish now leave it unsustainable in UK waters.
Alternative: European Hake
Although this can also be a river fish, wild salmon is incredibly sought after in its unfarmed variety. Stocks remain critically low in all wild types of salmon hence the introduction of manned salmon farms, which are the only sustainable variety of salmon.
Alternative: Scottish Farmed Salmon
This is an incredibly unsustainable fish and is considered a critically endangered species due to overfishing and lower reproduction rates. Avoid!
Alternative: Irish Herring
Wild Atlantic Halibut has been subject to the results of heavy fishing and has been left with sufficiently depleted stock levels. While Halibut is still popular, it is wise to avoid any Halibut that has been sourced from UK waters.
Alternative: UK farmed Halibut
These are only a select few varieties that are considered “Under Threat” from a species being eradicated from UK waters if their levels of sustainability are not left alone to improve.
The Final Catch-Net
UK fishing waters are a beautiful source of so many varieties of fish, some of which are more popular to consumers and some of which are not; a trend that can be set by tradition or a surge in popularity.
The popular fish species are undeniably delicious, but the consumption comes at a cost to maintaining sufficient breeding stock levels to keep the fish from being under threat in the wild.
Sustainability, both in the methods of catching and landing the fish and being mindful of the species of fish that are landed, should always win over consumer trends and even taste!
There is no benefit to anyone by having a detrimental impact on our UK fish Eco-Systems and family shoals for the sake of a £45 unsustainable-fish main with Beurre Blanc.
Let the net go!