Understanding whether the fish you see in the supermarket is truly sustainable can be a surprisingly tricky business.
Species labelled “sustainable” in one product may not be sustainably caught or farmed in another. Pole-and-line catches are generally recommended over fish captured in large nets, while the practice of “longlining” continues to pose a serious a risk to seabirds and sharks in many regions.
Overfishing in the 1990s caused a rapid collapse in the number of cod in the North Sea and across the Atlantic – that depletion is yet to be fully recovered.
But cod from fish stocks outside of the exhausted areas – including zones such as Iceland, the Northeast Atlantic and the Eastern Baltic – are considered more sustainable, while saithe (coley), hake and whiting are often recommended as white fish alternatives to cod; assuming they too are caught in a sustainable manner.
The collapse of the Grand Banks cod fishery in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1992, upset the international fish market. Cod became a World Wildlife Fund “priority species” and the impetus was created for the Marine Stewardship Council to be set up in 1996. The MSC’s blue “tick” logo on supermarket products is used to certify sourcing from sustainable fisheries – that is, those which have not been overexploited and where the population is not endangered.
Fish farms can fulfil the large demand for popular yet reduced wild stocks of fish such as salmon but they can also cause environmental problems, especially those set in areas without strong currents; or that rely heavily on chemical sea lice treatments – a potential biohazard to other creatures.
Chefs and campaigners concerned with sustainable seafood often recommend looking out for organically farmed species such as salmon and trout; organic farming practices include limiting the amount of chemicals used in production and ensure a sustainable feed source.
“Farmed seafood is quite difficult for consumers to navigate but we would always encourage them to look at our Good Fish Guide to find the fish that is best rated,” says Samuel Stone, head of fisheries and aquaculture at the Marine Conservation Society.
“Making that decision is easier said than done because the products don’t always include all the information you need on the pack. A lot of products will have the name of the fish and the farming country but won’t necessarily display the production method.”
The MCS’s Stone adds: “Look out for seafood that is farmed to recognised independent production standards and carries eco-labels on packs, such as ASC or Certified Organic.”
With so many factors to consider, it’s no wonder there has been so much confusion among consumers of late.
Key is knowing how and where fish have been caught, or farmed. For example, the MCS recommends seabass farmed in onshore tanks in Europe but wild seabass caught in the North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, Bristol Channel, and Celtic Sea is considered to be from at-risk populations that should avoided.
Longline-caught – or “demersal otter trawl” – haddock from the Northeastern Arctic stays on the menu, while longline caught haddock from the Faroes Grounds are not. Last month, haddock from west of Scotland and North Sea populations were removed from the MCS’s Good Fish Guide after the organisation judged that stocks dropped below acceptable levels last year. “Bottom trawling” – a practice which uses weights to drag nets along the seafloor – has come in for particular criticism due to the collateral damage caused to other marine life such as fragile corals.
“It’s down to the impact of the gear,” says Stone.
“It depends on the kind of fish you are targeting and the kind of environment you are operating in as well. A mid-water trawl doesn’t come in contact with the seafloor, and can be very selective. Lower-impact gear collects less bycatch [unintended captures] and has less impact on the seafloor.”
Some high-profile chefs have long campaigned to encourage consumption of less-popular fish such as mackerel and gurnard. And the MCS has identified cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns as the UK’s “big five” most popular species for consumers – it wants shoppers to opt for less popular species too.
Vietnamese river cobbler – a catfish also known as “basa” or “pangasius” – is native to freshwater habitats around Indochina. Pangasius can weigh as much as 44kg in the wild – but that’s not where to look for sustainable. It is samples from farms adhering to Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards are generally considered to be a “green” option.
“There still remains some fish sold in the UK’s supermarkets that we consider to be medium-to-high risk. For example, squid sometimes comes from overseas fisheries that don’t rate very well in our Good Fish Guide,” says the MCS’s Samuel Stone.
Food and drink news
Food and drink news
1/31 Gluten-free diets 'not recommended' for people without coeliac disease
Avoiding wheat, barley and rye in the belief that a gluten-free diet brings health benefits may do more harm than good, according to a team of US nutrition and medicine experts
2/31 Starbucks launches two new coffee-based drinks
Starbucks is launching two new coffee-based drinks in the UK, as it strives to tap into consumers’ growing appetite for healthy beverages. The Cold Brew Vanilla sweet cream and the Cappuccino Freddo, will both be available in stores throughout the UK from the start of May
3/31 Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Tiffin is making a permanent comeback after 80 years
The Cadbury Dairy Milk Tiffin, first produced in 1937, is making a permanent comeback to the UK. The raisin and biscuit-filled chocolate bar is being launched after a successful trial last summer saw 3 million chocolate treats – at the cost of £1.49 for each 95g bar- purchased by nostalgic customers
4/31 Pizza restaurant makes ‘world’s cheesiest’
'Scottie's Pizza Parlor' in Portland Oregon has created the world’s cheesiest pizza using a total of 101 different cheese varieties.
Facebook/Scottie's Pizza Parlor
5/31 A pizza joint in Portland Oregon has created the world’s cheesiest pizza using a total of 101 different cheese varieties. Why not eating before a workout could be better for your health
A study published in the American Journal of Physiology by researchers at the University of Bath found you might be likely to burn more fat if you have not eaten first
6/31 New York restaurant named best in the world
A New York restaurant where an average meal for two will cost $700 has been named the best in the world. Eleven Madison Park won the accolade for the first time after debuting on the list at number 50 in 2010. The restaurant was praised for a fun sense of fine-dining, “blurring the line between the kitchen and the dining room”
7/31 Why you crave bad food when you’re tired
Researchers at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in Chicago recently presented their results of a study looking into the effects of sleep deprivation upon high-calorific food consumption. Researchers found that those who were sleep-deprived had “specifically enhanced” brain activity to the food smells compared to when they had a good night’s sleep
8/31 Drinking wine engages more of your brain than solving maths problems
Drinking wine is the ideal workout for your brain, engaging more parts of our grey matter than any other human behaviour, according to a leading neuroscientist. Dr Gordon Shepherd, from the Yale School of Medicine, said sniffing and analysing a wine before drinking it requires “exquisite control of one of the biggest muscles in the body”
9/31 British dessert eating surges after people ditch healthy eating in February
: In heartening news for anyone feeling guilty about quitting their New Year diet, it seems lots of us have given in to our sweet tooths once again. New data from nationwide food-delivery service Deliveroo reveals there was a surge in Brits ordering desserts in February compared to the first month of 2017
10/31 US congress debates definition of milk alternatives
A new bill has been created that seeks to ban dairy alternatives from using the term ‘milk’. Titled the DAIRY PRIDE Act, the name is a tenuous acronym for ‘defending against imitations and replacements of yogurt, milk, and cheese to promote regular intake of dairy every day’. It argues that the dairy industry is struggling as a result of all the dairy-free alternatives on the market and the public are being duped too
11/31 Cadbury’s launches two new chocolate bars
UK confectionary giant Cadbury has launched two new chocolate bars, hoping to lure those with a sweet tooth and perhaps help combat some of the challenges it faces from rising commodity prices and a post-Brexit slump in the value of the pound.The company’s new products will be peanut butter and mint flavoured. They will be available in most major super markets as 120g bars, priced at £1.49, according to the company
12/31 You can now get a job as a professional chocolate eater
The company responsible for some of your favourite chocolate brands – think Cadbury, Milks, Prince and Oreo – have officially announced an opening to join their team as a professional chocolate taster. The successful candidate will help them to test, perfect and launch new products all over the world.
13/31 MSG additive used in Chinese food is actually good for you, scientist claims
For years, we’ve been told MSG (the sodium salt of glutamic acid) - often associated with cheap Chinese takeaways - is awful for our health and to be avoided at all costs. But one scientist argues it should be used as a “supersalt” and encourages adding it to food.
14/31 Lettuce prices are rising
Not only are lettuces becoming an increasingly rare commodity in supermarkets, but prices for the leafy vegetables seem to be rising too. According to the weekly report from the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a pair of Little Gem lettuces had an average market price of £0.86 in the week that ended on Friday, up from an average of £0.56 in the previous week – that’s an almost 54 per cent increase.
15/31 Food School
Kids celebrate Food School graduation with James Martin – a campaign launched by Asda to educate young people on where food comes from. New research has revealed that children across the UK just aren’t stepping up to the plate when it comes to simple facts about the food they eat – with almost half of children under eight not knowing that eggs come from chickens
16/31 ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant
To encourage more people to cook and eat together, IKEA has launched The Dining Club in Shoreditch – a fully immersive ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant . Members of the public can book to host a brunch, lunch or dinner party for up to 20 friends and family. Supported by their very own sous chef and maître de, the host and their guests will orchestrate an intimate dining experience where cooking together is celebrated and eating together is inspirational
Mikael Buck / IKEA
17/31 Ping Pong menu with a twist
Gatwick Airport has teamed up with London dim sum restaurant Ping Pong to create a limited edition menu with a distinctly British twist; including a Full English Bao and Beef Wellington Puff, to celebrate the launch of the airport’s new route to Hong Kong
18/31 Zizzi unveil the Ma’amgharita
Unique pizza art has been created by Zizzi in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. The pizza features the queen in an iconic pose illustrated with fresh and tasty Italian ingredients on a backdrop of the Union Jack
19/31 Blue potatoes make a comeback
Blue potatoes, once a staple part of British potato crops, are back on the menu thanks to a Cambridge scientist turned-organic farmer and Farmdrop, an online marketplace that lets people buy direct from local farms. Cambridge PhD graduate-turned farmer, Adrian Izzard has used traditional growing techniques at Wild Country Organics to produce the colourful spuds, packed with healthy cell-protecting anthocyanin, which had previously disappeared from UK plates when post-war farmers were pushed towards higher-yielding varieties
20/31 France plans to usurp Scotland as the home of the world's best whisky
France is planning to usurp Scotland’s reputation as the home of the world’s best whisky, fired by a growing national obsession with the drink. According to a study by retail consultants Bonial, the French drink more whisky than any other country – an average of 2.15 litres a year, compared to 1.8 litres in second-placed Uruguay and the US in third on 1.4 litres
Bloomberg via Getty Images
21/31 The price of an avocado is set to rise
Britain’s avocado lovers are facing a significant increase in the cost of their favourite salad food because the so-called superfood is becoming too popular. High demand from health-conscious consumers has led Peru to triple its avocado exports since 2010, with exports to the UK up 58% over the past year
22/31 Eating cereal may not be the healthiest way to start the day
The old saying goes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so many of us do as we are told and grab a bowl of cereal before we head out the door. But an expert has warned that while many cereals boxes claim their contents are the perfect start to the day, many are packed full of sugar and carbohydrates with little nutritional value. Even some seemingly-health muesli cereals have a lot of added sugar in the form of honey, malt, molasses, dried fruit or “even fruit juice”
23/31 Crisps made with real ingredients
Michelin starred chef, Simon Rogan in action cooking a menu inspired by the provenance ingredients in the new Chef’s Signature range from Kettle Chips. Kettle Chips, the nation’s favourite premium crisp brand, has launched the new range of crisps with exciting new seasonings, made with the highest quality food ingredients rather than chemicals or artificial flavours
24/31 Japanese whisky crisis
Suntory’s chief blender Mr. Fukuyo San blends component whiskies to create Suntory Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, a blend of young and old single malts. Japan’s warm climate and varied seasons makes it perfect environment to age and blend whiskies, creating subtle, refined and complex expressions.The recent trend for Japanese whisky has put the spirit on the verge of a global shortage
25/31 Non-alcoholic cocktails are seriously chic
We are living through a new era of creative, non-alcoholic drinks that go way beyond a coke or sweet mocktail. The world is becoming more health conscious. There's the war on sugar, and teetotalism is on the rise, with more than one in five not drinking at all (especially young adults), according to The National Statistics for Adult Drinking Habits. This abstinence is even more pronounced in London, with almost one in three turning away from alcohol. An increasing number of mixologists are applying their talents to the creation of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good as their boozy alternatives
26/31 'Heat map' shows which areas of Britain enjoy the spiciest curries
After Bradford was named the Curry Capital of Britain for the fifth year running, a map has been released showing which regions of Britain enjoy a spicy curry and which prefer the milder variants. According to the map developed by Hari Ghotra, Kent, Essex, West Yorkshire and Lancashire are the heat-handling kings of Britain, while Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all prefer milder curries. The data was collected by monitoring the location of social media posts that mentioned names of curries. These were then given a spice rating and were then collated to give each area a score out of 1000
27/31 Guinness to become vegan-friendly
Guinness is set to become vegan friendly for the first time in its 256-year history, as the company announced its plan to stop using fish bladders in its filters
28/31 Why the salmon on your plate might not actually be salmon
Salmon that ends up on the dinner table may not be salmon at all, a study has suggested. The problem of salmon mislabelling has become an increasing issue in the US in the winter months, according to American research published by Oceana. The findings show that 43 per cent of the salmon tested was mislabelled – the most common instance of this being when farmed Atlantic salmon was sold as wild salmon
29/31 How dangerous is a bacon sandwich
A recent WHO report warning that processed and red meats can cause cancer may have left you thinking a little harder about whether to pick up that bacon butty for breakfast or ditch a beef-filled Bolognese for dinner - but how worried should we be? The review of 800 studies for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) prompted global health experts to cast processed meats - including bacon, ham and sausages - into the ominous-sounding list of group 1 carcinogens, where they joined formaldehyde, gamma radiation and cigarettes. Eating just a 50g portion of processed meat – or two rashers of bacon - a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent, the experts concluded
30/31 New Zealanders are behind a lot of the interesting food and drink stuff happening in the UK
Dark beers are more suited to cold months, so the thinking goes, but in one part of the world they're always popular. "Lots of breweries in New Zealand have got stouts and porters among their best sellers," says Stu McKinlay, one half of the duo behind Wellington brewing company Yeastie Boys. McKinlay recently swapped Wellington for west Kent in order to launch Yeastie Boys in the UK, and he's joined forces with four other breweries (8 Wired, Renaissance, Three Boys, Tuatara) as part of the New Zealand Craft Beer Collective, to promote his country's finest over here
31/31 Additives in popular chicken nuggets
Ingredients, a new book co-created by photographer Dwight Eschliman and food writer Steve Ettlinger distils 25 products, including popcorn, Red Bull and chicken soup, focusing on 75 of the most common food additives and revealing what each one looks like, where it comes from and why it is used. McDonald’s chicken nuggets were found to contain 40 different ingredients. These included dextrose, a sugar also used by shoe makers to make leather more pliable, and corn starch, used for thickening food as well as also being a substitute for petrol
Tilapia is described as “plain and muddy” in flavour but can be a good addition to a meal with stronger flavours. Outside of the fish family, handpicked cockles are generally considered a good sustainable option.
Included among the fish environmental campaigners are keen for us to avoid entirely are: the conger eel, European eel, bluefin tuna, spurdog, wild Atlantic halibut, blue marlin and parrotfish. While you’re unlikely to find endangered species in a UK supermarket today, extra care needs to be taken in restaurants and fishmongers as well as shops abroad.
Albacore (except Mediterranean-caught) or skipjack tuna are still on the menu but the highly endangered bluefin tuna and bigeye tuna from several fisheries are to be avoided.
Not everyone has the time to do the research, and not all our fish is clearly labelled. Fortunately, the Marine Stewardship Council runs its own certification programme, with around 5,000 products carrying its standard-setting blue label.
While the MSC label is a good standard to look for in the shops, when it comes to products without these indicators, understanding where your food has come from can be more challenging.
“We would always advocate for clear and accurate labelling, so people can make informed buying decisions” says the MCS’s Stone.
“There are EU labelling regulations for seafood, but there are several loopholes that make it possible for the labelling to be quite ambiguous. Displaying several different capture methods is a good example.”
Part of the problem are the varying arguments as to what makes a given population of fish, or catchment method, sustainable or not. Stone also cites the ongoing debate on the role supermarkets should play in setting standards, and how much is down to consumer choice and legislation at both the national and international levels.
“Labelling regulations could be improved to make the labels clearer and more accurate, but this is challenging for the supply chain to implement with current practices and technology.
“It would mean having separate labels for many, many sources which would take time and cost more for manufacturers. We would like this to happen, but recognise that it’s difficult to achieve.
“The more that consumers demand sustainable seafood, the more supermarkets will provide it.”
Fish tips from Samuel Stone of the Marine Conservation Society
Cod and haddock: Will in most cases be wild caught from one of several different fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic. The UK catches a lot but also imports from Iceland and Norway where populations are doing well. Look or ask if your cod or haddock is MSC-certified for the best option.
Fish fingers: Could be any number of fish species (such as cod, haddock, whiting) so best to ask. A very common species used in fish fingers is pollock. Most pollock fisheries rate pretty well on Good Fish Guide but the best is Alaskan pollock.
Mussels: Generally a pretty good option as a lot of mussels are cultivated around the UK using low-impact methods. Best choices are rope-grown and hand-raked or MCS-certified dredged.
Prawns: Will either be large (the size of a curled up finger) or as small as a 20p coin. Small prawns will be wild caught from fisheries that are doing pretty well. Larger ones will most likely be farmed – usually in Southeast Asia. Best choice here are organically farmed or if the staff are well informed, they might mention a certification like Aquaculture Stewardship Council, GlobalGap , or GAA Best Aquaculture Practices. If you don’t hear any of these words, best give them a miss.
Salmon (farmed): The salmon that we overwhelmingly eat is farmed Atlantic salmon – usually produced in Norway or Scotland. While it’s not the most sustainable seafood choice, it’s also not the worst. Organically farmed is currently the best option. Seek out Freedom Food-certified to ensure good welfare standards.
Wild caught salmon is still available in a few restaurants, but this is declining and many salmon rivers are not in good health. Unless your restaurant is certain their salmon has come from a river with a healthy salmon population, best to give it a miss.
Scampi or langoustine: Scampi tails are usually from bottom trawl fisheries whereas langoustine (whole scampi) may be trawled or pot caught. Pot caught is definitely a lower impact choice. Trawl caught varies, so do ask, but don’t expect a detailed response unless your restaurant is very well informed on their seafood supply.
Squid: This could be from anywhere in the world. At certain times of the year squid is caught around the British coast but as the UK exports most of its squid, there is a good chance any squid on the menu will be imported. Squid fisheries vary in sustainability standards and are traditionally not well managed, but jig- or line-caught is the most selective option, so keep an eye out. Common Chinese squid, trawl-caught from Vietnam and Thailand is currently rated “red” by MCS.
Trout (brown or rainbow): Most available on UK menus these days is farmed and a pretty good option. Rainbow trout is one of my favourites and a great alternative to salmon.
Tuna and billfish: Caught all over the world using a range of methods. Pole-and-line or hand-line caught are the most selective gear types and represent the most sustainable choice. Steer clear of bluefin tuna as it is still on the endangered list.
“White” fish: Beware of anything that only states this. While it affords the restaurant a lot of flexibility, this could literally be any fish from anywhere. Definitely ask about the kind of fish used.
Whitebait: This will either be mixed juvenile fish, juvenile sprat, or if you’re lucky, mature sprat. Sprat is generally a pretty safe choice. While a fast-growing and a small species, sprat are important food for many fish and bird species and stocks need to be looked after.Reuse content