For years, chefs extolled it as a perfect example of a cheap, tasty and, crucially, sustainable fish which could be eaten with a clear conscience.
Now the public have been warned not to buy too much mackerel because of fears it is being overfished in a rerun of the 1970s Cod Wars between Britain and Iceland.
In the latest annual update to its Fish to Eat guide, seen as the go-to guide for the ethical fish eater, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has removed mackerel from its list of abundant species that are being responsibly harvested. Instead, mackerel – once the quintessentially ample, inexpensive fish – has joined the likes of North Sea turbot and most sea bass on the “caution” list of species people should buy only occasionally.
The MCS, Britain’s biggest marine charity, made the turnaround as a result of the three-year dispute between Iceland and the EU, principally Britain, over who has the right to land the once-plentiful fish.
Iceland and the Faeroe Isles have recently increased their mackerel catch, as a result of the fish moving north, probably because of climate change. Brussels has refused to cut the quotas of EU members to make up for the increase, meaning that the total catch is way above the total amount recommended by scientists.
Now, the MCS says mackerel trawling should “no longer be considered a sustainable fishery”.
Gurnard has also been placed on the cautionary list.