This may seem like an offbeat topic, but I love fish and always want to know how to find the best sustainable fish for that matter.
I prefer fish to meat. I am passionate about the plight of fish stocks and I always buy sustainable fish and seafood. Fish has always been a valuable part of our daily diet, a staple food all over the world.
And in the developed world it’s easy to take it for granted. We can buy it on our high streets, in our supermarkets, and online without really thinking about where it comes from. But in recent years we’ve become increasingly aware that fish stocks are not infinite, and that along with other environmental issues, we need to take a careful look at our fishing.
Threats to fish stocks have been identified in several areas. Overfishing is the most obvious. So if you want to continue eating fish as part of a healthy diet, but at the same time want to protect fish stocks for future generations, follow these top tips for buying sustainable fish the next time you’re grocery shopping.
1. SOURCE Your INFORMATION
The more you know about the issues, the more equipped you are to make changes. There is plenty of information out there to help you make responsible decisions. Check out organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Marine Conservation Society, carry a copy of the Good Fish Guide, produced by the MSC, and ask for more information wherever you buy your fish.
2. CHECK SUSTAINABILITY
There are now many websites where you can check sustainability of the particular fish you want. This will have been calculated based on the stocks left in the sea, the methods used to catch the fish and any other factors which need to be taken into consideration. Fish varieties under particular pressure include Plaice, Tropical Prawns, Haddock, European Hake, Atlantic Halibut, Monkfish, Swordfish, Marlin, Sharks, Skates, Rays and Atlantic Salmon, both wild and farmed, as well as some varieties of cod and tuna. In particular, avoid deepwater fish and sharks, which tend to be slow-growing and breed slowly. The techniques used to fish in the deepest water can also be most harmful to more fragile species.
3. CHOOSE WISELY
Buying sustainable fish is about choosing fish that have been caught or farmed responsibly, and support good fishing practices. Retailers are required by EU law (or other entities) to state the species of fish, the production method, whether the fish is wild or farmed, and where it’s been sourced. Look at the labels on packs, tins and cans, including frozen and chilled fish products, and if you’re in any doubt, ask the supermarket or fishmonger. Look for fish caught using methods with lower environmental impact such as hand-lining or potting. The MSC produces a guide to the relative impact of various fishing methods and equipment.
4. BE PREPARED to DIVERSIFY
Get to know which fish are unsustainable, and do a bit of research into the best alternatives. Most fish can be substituted with more sustainable varieties, and there are lots of great recipes which use less well-known fish. Learning to cook with more unusual ingredients means your diet will be much more interesting too.
5. BE CAREFUL with FARMED FISH
Farming fish has been hailed as the answer to sustainable fishing. However, bad fish farming can make the problems worse. Fish meal and oil given to farmed stocks comes from wild varieties, such as sand eels, increasing pressure on the marine environment. Some breeding stocks are also taken from the wild. Lastly, the water and environments surrounding fish farms can be polluted by fish waste, food that isn’t eaten and the chemicals, vaccines and antibiotics used to control and prevent disease. HOWEVER, fish farming done the right way is probably even better than ocean and river fish sourced naturally. The fish live in almost perfect habitats, are well looked after, are fed well and a healthy farmed fish can be even tastier than its ocean/river going cousin. There are so many regulations that you shouldn’t fear farmed fish, nor think it is inferior.
6. BUY LOCAL
Buying fish directly from local fishermen means you can ask where they caught it, and check out their fishing equipment. Beware of local markets however, unless you can be sure they aren’t buying their stock from large unsustainable wholesalers. But remember, it’s always better to shop locally and buy food which has been produced nearby, to reduce the distance your food - and you – have to travel.
7. SPREAD the WORD
The more of us who are prepared to defend our fish and the environment in which they thrive, the better the world will be. Talk to people about your preference for sustainable fish, and share tips on finding it. Have fun swapping recipes that use eco-friendly varieties with your family and friends, and if you feel you should do more, get involved with the many local and online schemes and petitions, which are being set up to change the way we source fish worldwide.
Buying sustainable fish is no longer just an issue for those with time on their hands and a campaigning spirit. It’s a job for all of us. If we take a bit of interest and a bit of care with our marine environment now, we’ll be able to enjoy a good fish dinner for many decades to come.