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Five fish it’s OK to eat

The Ecologist

6th June, 2011

The Marine Stewardship Council's James Simpson picks five fish that can be enjoyed guilt-free

The last six months have seen a surge of interest in fish, how it's caught and whether it's sustainable to go on eating it. In January, Hugh's Fish Fight highlighted the problem of discards, while last month saw the launch of Project Ocean - an initiative launched by Selfridges with the help of Prince Charles and Livia Firth among others. Saturday marked the start of European Fish Week, a programme of activities organised by OCEAN2012 - an organisation dedicated to reform of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, reducing bad and wasteful practice and eliminating overfishing.

What all these campaigns have done, is raise awareness of the environmental issues facing our oceans, not least by highlighting the plight of our fish stocks. With stocks of certain species at perilously low levels, it’s more important than ever to modify consumption of fish. But moderation doesn't mean having to give up your fish and chips altogether. While Atlantic cod and bluefin tuna should be avoided, there are plenty of species with healthy populations that can be enjoyed sensibly. We asked the Marine Stewardship Council’s James Simpson to suggest five fish you can eat with a clear conscience.

MSC certified mackerel
‘In the UK, much of the MSC certified mackerel comes from Scottish pelagic trawlers. Definitely a case where big is beautiful, the super-high-tech boats can differentiate between mackerel shoals and herring thanks to sophisticated sonar, and then test the shoals before setting their nets to catch the fish. That way, they ensure that they only catch the mackerel in season and don't catch small ones. If you prefer handline-caught fish from smaller boats, you can also buy tinned mackerel from the South West handline mackerel fishery.’

Cornish sardines
‘This is a lovely inshore fishery catching sardines from the English Channel in areas around Mounts Bay and Mevagissey Bay on the Cornish south coast. The Cornish sardine fishery dates back to 1555. Traditionally, fishermen would set out to catch fish when cliff-top lookouts spotted the shoals of sardines in the shallow coastal bays. The knowledge of where the shoals congregate has been passed down through generations although sonar has now replaced the cliff-top lookouts. We're particularly grateful to the Cornish sardine fishermen because they helped us to develop a new way of assessing data-poor fisheries (a common challenge in developing world fisheries) that is now helping their fellow fishermen to get certified as far away as Vietnam.’

MSC certified Pacific albacore tuna
‘We hear a lot of terrible stories about the state of tuna stocks and the environmental impacts of catching tuna so it's good to know that there is a certified sustainable choice. This pole and troll fishery catches the albacore one at a time in relatively small family-run boats. Bycatch is next to zero and it is certainly dolphin-friendly. There's also a really strong tuna fishing community in San Diego.’

MSC certified cod
‘You can eat cod with a clear conscience and there are four cod fisheries that have been certified - two of them in the Pacific and two closer to the UK in Norway: in the north-eastern Arctic and in the Barents Sea. Often, the cod if frozen at sea - preserving its freshness - and, if defrosted carefully, can taste fresher than 'fresh' fish. The fishery uses a mix of fishing gear and wide variety of boats to catch fish and the management fishery management is world-class. The Norwegians conduct sophisticated stock assessments every year and these provide a comprehensive view of the stock's trends with data going back almost 50 years. Also, under Norwegian law, all the fish they catch are landed (so no discards), which provides better future information on the levels of catches and the status of any bycatch species.’

MSC certified haddock
‘There are four MSC certified haddock fisheries. In the UK, we mostly get haddock from the certified Scottish fishery. They use low-drag fishing gear and are currently trialling a new net that aims to reduce bycatch (and thus discards) by half.’

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