An estimated 40 per cent to 60 per cent of all fish caught globally end up back in the sea, dead and wasted, according to the European Commission.*
Our love affair with the main five fish and seafood varieties – tuna, salmon, haddock, cod and prawns – has meant that these species are dwindling. Not only that, other less popular (but equally tasty) fish, which have accidentally ended up in fishermen’s nets, are thrown back to sea, simply because the public don’t want them.
Even fish that would sell are also often wasted. The hugely inefficient European Common Fisheries Policy has forced fishermen to discard large quantities of perfectly edible, marketable fish, due to strict quotas that impose caps on the amount of fish they can bring to shore. While the policy was born from good-hearted intentions – namely the need to restrict over-fishing of endangered species – it simply hasn’t worked. It’s predicted that by the year 2048, all species currently fished will be extinct.
So, what will save our fish? The European Common Fisheries Policy is currently under review in an attempt to reduce the huge level of discards taking place off our shores, but change must also start with us, the consumers.
By embracing the ugly fish that we’ve typically never wanted, such as gurnard, dab, black bream, whiting, pouting and dog fish – all fish that taste just as good as our beloved cod – fishermen will no longer need to throw away the by-catch from their usual haul. There’ll be demand for under-fished species, less unnecessary waste and our endangered fish will get a break.
Here are a few basic pointers to follow:
Try fish that you’ve never heard of before and ask your fishmonger what he recommends – they’ll be able to tell you which fish is local and how it was caught, which is more sustainable and which is fresh that day.
Buy whole fish rather than fillets (ask your fishmonger to gut and scale it first) – it’s so quick and simple to prepare and you’ll find the meat goes much further. You can also use the bones and head to make stock, which can add tonnes of flavour to fish soup, paella or risotto. For more inspiration on how to cook whole fish, see my Asian-style gurnard recipe.
Look out for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) approved logo. The MSC measure the sustainability of our fish stocks, so by buying MSC-approved fish, it’s much easier to know when you’re buying responsibly.
So remember, there are plenty more fish in the sea, and the fishmongers too! Good luck and buy sustainably.
*Tristam Stuart. Waste: uncovering the global food scandal. 2009. Penguin