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Ulfar Eysteinsson, fish restaurant owner in Iceland
"There are some fish people just don't know about"
 real 28k

Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 00:01 GMT 01:01 UK
Eat a fish, save a species
Herring at Billingsgate Fish Market, David Southern/WWF-UK
'Ask for herring': WWF-UK © David Southern, WWF-UK
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Conservationists say consumers can play a crucial part in protecting threatened fish stocks.

They recognise that making informed choices can be very hard, because of the number of fisheries and the variety of fishing gear used around the UK's coasts.


Fishing ... generates an important income for many coastal communities.

WWF-UK report
But they say consumers can bring about change if they have the right information.

And varying the type of fish you eat can make all the difference.

A report by WWF, the global environment network, says the current crisis over cod stocks in the North and Irish seas has underlined concern over fish stocks elsewhere.

Great scallops at Billingsgate Fish Market, David Southern/WWF-UK
Varying purchases could take pressure off popular species, WWF-UK says © David Southern, WWF-UK
But the report, Fish of the Day, says what is happening to the cod is about more than a source of protein.

"Fishing also generates an important income for many coastal communities, and is a source of jobs for related processing and service industries", the report says.

"UK fisheries employ 17,800 fishermen and provide 100,000 associated jobs on land. Landings by the UK fleet were valued at 414m in 2000.

Cod shortfall

"Nevertheless, our fleet is now unable to catch the allocated quota of cod, and the total UK landings for all species are in decline."

Fishermen are already using more selective gear and more stringent management measures, the report says. But consumers also have a part to play.

"Not eating fish would only encourage a spiral of decline", WWF says. "Instead, we should aim at supporting our fishing communities and the wider marine environment by continuing to eat fish and by making informed decisions about the fish we choose."

Recommendations

Its recommendations to people buying fish include:

  • ask for herring, which used to be popular until the collapse of the stock led to a ban on catches in the 1970s
  • vary purchases. Cod, haddock, plaice, salmon and prawns dominate the British diet. But enough species are caught around UK coasts for shoppers to choose a different sort of fish every week of the year, taking the pressure off the big five
  • to avoid encouraging catches of immature fish, reject the fashion for smaller ones which will fit easily on a plate, and never buy anything labelled "baby fish"
  • buy locally caught fish to support local industries
  • find out if possible how the fish were caught, and buy those harvested by more traditional and less intensive methods (for instance by divers or on lines), as these do less harm to marine habitats and catch fewer non-target fish
  • avoid some of the more vulnerable species, like the common skate and deep sea fish such as the orange roughy
  • when buying farmed fish, opt for those reared in open sea conditions, and which have not relied on large supplies of wild-caught fish as feed
  • keep questioning retailers, because consumer concerns eventually result in supplier action.
The report says: "Given the complexities of the fisheries and fishing methods used in the UK, it is hardly surprising that people are looking for clear, easily available information.

Eco-labelling

"Eco-labelling schemes such as the one being developed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) will help.

"The MSC provides a set of standards for sustainable and well-managed fisheries which are assessed by an independent certifier. If they meet the requirements they are provided with a logo.

"Several small-scale inshore fisheries in the UK are in the process of being certified by the MSC. The Thames herring fishery was the first, in March 2000."

Photos courtesy and copyright of David Southern, WWF-UK

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See also:

17 May 01 | Scotland
Call for EU fisheries overhaul
24 Jan 01 | Europe
Emergency ban to save cod
17 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Fish stocks 'failure' attacked
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