Official healthy eating advice to consume at least two portions of fish a week is under review in light of the collapse of ocean stocks, the Food Standards Agency announced yesterday.
Growing concern over sustainability could see traditional species such as cod and plaice disappear from the government–sanctioned menu. They are likely to be replaced by more ethically sourced seafood products including line-caught pollack, Cornish sardines and Scottish pot-caught langoustines.
But the agency said it was unlikely to alter its current recommendations on the amount of fish people should eat. Experts are convinced that fish is a vital source of Omega 3, which guards against cancer, heart disease and helps boost brain power.
Announcing the review, Rosemary Hignett, the head of the FSA's nutrition division, said it would consult the Government and environment and industry groups before making a final announcement. "We are aware that fish consumption and sustainability is a key issue for many consumers and current advice can be confusing," she said.
Celebrity chefs have already thrown their weight behind international efforts to promote sustainable stocks. A Greenpeace campaign launched last month to persuade food writers to drop endangered species from their recipes saw Heston Blumenthal, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Raymond Blanc and Tom Aikens sign up to the cause.
According to the most recent figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, more than half of all fisheries worldwide are being fished at, or beyond, their maximum biological capacity. A further 24 per cent are being over-exploited, depleted or are recovering from overfishing.
Worst hit have been predatory species such as cod, tuna, swordfish and shark, which have declined by 90 per cent in the past 50 years.
Global consumption has doubled since 1973 and is forecast to rise by a further 25 per cent by 2015. Yet despite the demand, most people still do not eat enough fish. In Britain, average consumption of oily fish is just over one third of a portion each week.
Willie Mackenzie, of Greenpeace, said: "Obviously, the question arising from this is, where exactly is an increase of 40 per cent overall and 200 per cent in oily fish going to come from, and just how sustainable is that likely to be given the parlous state of the world's fisheries?"
James Simpson, of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), said Britain had more than 200 certified eco-friendly fish products readily available. "The number of stores stocking these products has grown faster than anyone could have anticipated a few years ago. Looking for the MSC eco-label is an easy way to choose a sustainable product," he said.
At present there are 26 fisheries worldwide that are officially certified as sustainable – accounting for approximately 8 per cent of the 95 million tonnes landed each year.