It is estimated that around 80% of European fish stocks are over-fished, causing enormous declines in population numbers throughout European waters. Although the fishing itself is a big part of the problem, it is also the methods used to harvest certain species that cause damage to both their population numbers, and surrounding eco-systems. This is most obvious with methods such as dredging and long-line fishing which either tear up the seabed or kill other animals that get caught in nets and on hooks.
Seabirds are particularly affected by this but many other species also rely on fish as a stable food source. We are taking fish out of the sea more quickly than it can be replenished, but product labelling can often lack the information you need to make a choice about the sustainability of the fish (sometimes you don't even know where the fish was caught, let alone how). Here are our top tips on which species can be eaten sustainably, and also those that should be completely avoided due to their vulnerability.
Red Gurnard Sustainable Gurnard - the two most sustainable species are Red and Grey although the Red Gurnard is more commonly caught as food. They are however, not in high demand and are often thrown back into the sea. They are fast growing and mature at a young age but avoid eating those that are not very old and less than 20cm in length. Pacific Halibut - like other Halibut species, this fish is a large and long-living flatfish meaning that populations can take a long time to recover if they are overfished. Pacific Halibut is more sustainable however, as stocks are managed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, who enforce strict rules. Mackerel - they are found throughout much of the North Atlantic, with population numbers said to be in a healthy and controlled state. They are an oily fish and high in omega-3 fatty acids, but to ensure sustainable consumption choose fish that have been caught on hand-lines or using other traditional methods. Mussels - unlike a number of other shellfish species, they are widely cultivated in low-impact environments and populations are generally considered to be healthy. They are however harvested using two methods which are dredging and by hand-picking them. Try to choose Mussels that are either farmed or are hand-picked from the wild. Pollock - a large, white fish that is closely related to Cod and Haddock, and Pollock is a great alternative for these species who's stocks are declining fast. It is fairly common around much of the UK coastline, but try to choose fish that have been line-caught and avoid those that are young and less than 50cm long.
Atlantic Salmon Not Sustainable Atlantic Halibut - this large, flat fish has been heavily exploited throughout much of it's natural habitat and is often caught in such high numbers that populations cannot recover quickly enough. Try to avoid eating Atlantic Halibut and choose fish that have been farmed if you must consume it. Bluefin Tuna - they are large and slow-maturing fish that are caught throughout much of their natural range. They are heavily over-fished all around the world, with global catches thought to have doubled in the last 10 years. The illegal fishing of Bluefin Tuna also affects other species in the process. They should be avoided. Red Seabream - the world's population numbers of this species is not known as they have declined rapidly due to heavy commercial fishing. Once commonly found throughout European waters, they are becoming rarer and rarer and the lack of management of the species means that they should be completely avoided. Wild Atlantic Salmon - although there are still a number of populations around the UK, numbers have declined rapidly as they have been severely over-fished. It is thought that they have also been affected by pollution and environmental changes and should not be eaten to give populations time to recover. Common Skate - once common throughout European waters, they are now a rare find due to over-fishing leading to severe declines in population numbers. They are slow-maturing but are of a large size from birth meaning that immature fish are also often caught. Populations should be left to allow them to recover.
Mussel Bed So when you're next looking for a fish supper, try to spend a little more time searching for the more sustainable species and those that have been caught using less harmful techniques. Although they may not all be found on the supermarket shelves, a trip to your local fishmonger will help you to find what you're looking for.