Seafood is an important source of protein and a large part of our diet. The seas around England and the UK can be some of the most productive in the world but it is important to make sure that we do not take more out of the sea than it can provide.
Selecting seafood that doesn't have a detrimental effect on the environment is reliant on many different factors and can be daunting. Choosing the right species, the method used to catch it, the time of year and where it was caught all make a difference to how sea-friendly your dinner is.
SpeciesWhat species you chose to eat is at the heart of sustainable seafood. Most of us know that shark-fin soup and whales should be of the menu, but what about tuna, cod, salmon, mussels or scallops? Stocks of different species vary and their popularity on our plates places them under a great deal of pressure. It isn't quite as easy as saying we should only eat abundant species which reproduce quickly. When single species are identified as the ‘correct’ choice more people catch, sell and eat them and their abundance quickly declines. Carefully selected variation is the key. There are commercial fisheries in the UK for spider crabs; seldom seen on a dinner plate they are a sustainable species. Unfairly shunned in the UK, it is ranked alongside lobster in Continental Europe. By broadening your diet you can spread the fishing pressure.
Fishing MethodHow the animals are caught is the next major factor. UK scallops stocks are healthy and their biology well suited to a fishery. At first glance they would seem like a good choice. Regrettably 98% of scallops landed in 2010 were caught using dredges. These dredges have a high impact and often very damaging to the seabed. The alternative is diver caught scallops, a method which is highly selective and results in almost zero bycatch and has minimal impact on the environment. Low-impact methods, those that have little effect on the seabed or marine habitat, are the best. A general rule is to choose seafood caught with static gear such as lobster pots or fixed nets and long line fisheries instead of trawls and dredges.
LocationWhere animals are caught has a big impact. Even though there are few physical barriers to movement in the sea a single species will have many metapopulations. These are populations of the same species but spatially separated. Cod stocks here in the Eastern English Channel are very low and would be a poor choice for your fish and chips.
SeasonalityWhen the fish are caught will not only impact their sustainability, but also the quality of the animals. During their breading season fish should be left alone to ensure that they can successfully reproduce and secure the future of the stocks, but as they put their energy into reproduction the rest of their bodies suffer and the quality declines. The Marine Conservation Society's Good Fish Guidehas a handy chart for finding out which species are seasonal and when to buy them.
Available helpThis can be an overwhelming amount of information to keep in mind, especially when doing your weekly shop in a busy supermarket. Luckily help is at hand. The Marine Conservation Society has The Good Fish Guide, available online and as a mobile phone app. As does the Marine Stewardship Council, an organisation which certifies fisheries – look out for their blue and white ‘tick’ logo.
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council and its sister organisation, the Marine Stewardship Council Marine Stewardship Council assess fisheries based on their environmental impact. Here in Sussex the Marine Stewardship Counsil has certified the Hastings pelagic herring, Hastings pelagic mackerel and Hastings dover sole as sustainable fisheries.
They also have a guide for sustainable seafood and you can find out which restaurants and supermarkets carry the certified products here.
Fish2Fork will help you find out which restaurants serve sustainable seafood. Community Supported Fisheries are appearing all over the UK. These schemes facilitate buying seafood directly from fishermen, meaning fresh fish at a fair price for both the fishermen and the customer.
Several of these guides are available to download for mobile devices: