Overfishing is having a huge and destructive effect on the world's oceans. It is estimated that stocks of some large predatory fish such as swordfish and halibut have declined by approximately ninety percent from the 1950s.
The main causes of this decline are our heavy reliance on certain fish species and bad fishing practices. In order to keep fish stocks abundant for future generations, we need to learn more about the fish we choose and promote sustainable fishing practices.
The government and the European Union are taking steps to tackle this problem. Two Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will be established close to Brighton & Hove at Kingmere and Beachy Head West. Here, species and habitats will be protected from activities that cause damage or disturbance.
The Parliament of the European Union also recently voted to reform the Common Fisheries Policy to include a ban on discarding young and unpopular species. It is still too early to tell what effect this will have, but the signs are hopeful that it is an important step towards more sustainable management of Europe's oceans.
In Brighton & Hove, fish is often a forgotten local food and there are many things that consumers, caterers and food businesses can do to support our local fishing industry and make more sustainable choices.
Six things you can do:
1. Eat less of the big five
Tuna, Salmon, Cod, Haddock and Prawns are commonly eaten and therefore overfished. Variety is the key to relieving pressure on at-risk species so be adventurous and try something new. What's more, less popular varieties are often cheaper and swapping your choice will encourage fishermen to land species that they may otherwise throw away.
Here are some alternative suggestions:
- Oily fish: Herring, Mackerel & Sardines
- White fish: Red mullet, Pollack, Sole, Dab, Sprats & Gurnard
- Shellfish: Mussels, whelks & squid
2. Eat locally caught fish
Fishing is Brighton's oldest industry with 11km of coastline. Local fish gets landed at Shoreham, Eastbourne, Rye, Newhaven, Selsey, Hastings, Brighton, Littlehampton, Dungeness, Bognor Regis and Worthing.
Buy from a local fishmonger if you can; they stock a greater variety of fish than supermarkets, and will often know where and how fish has been caught making it easier to choose something sustainable.
To make it easy for you, here are some top local choices:
- Oily fish: Herring, Mackerel & Sardines are commonly caught by drift nets. The Hastings Herring and Mackerel fisheries have Marine Stewardship Council certification.
- White fish: Red mullet, Pollack, Sole, Dab, Sprats and Gurnard – often caught as by-catch
- Shellfish: Mussels, whelks & squid – farmed or caught in pots
3. Eat oily fish
Eating fish can provide essential nutrients and oily fish in particular are rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help prevent heart disease.
It is recommended that most people should eat two portions of oily fish a week. Make sure you choose sustainable options. Most oily fish are not under threat at the moment and those available locally include herring and sardines. If you are on a budget, tinned oily fish can be a cheaper option.
Get to grips with some new oily fish recipes, read our nutritional recommendations on eating fish as well as obtaining Omega 3 from a vegetarian diet.
4. Always ask how your fish was caught
Methods of fishing range from bottom-trawling where a huge, heavy net is raked over the seabed to the traditional line and hook where fish are caught one by one. Unsustainable methods do not only fish from under-pressure stocks, but also cause significant damage, kill large numbers of other marine life as by-catch, and catch juvenile fish before they have had a chance to reproduce.
Get quizzical - when eating out or buying fish, always ask about its origins and how it was caught. This will help you choose the best option and let the sellers know that people are concerned about these issues.
Local boats use both 'static gear' such as nets, pots and handlines as well as 'mobile gear' such as trawling and dredging. The Hastings trawl fishery for Sole is MSC certified, as trawling on sand is not damaging. If shopping in a supermarket, choose 'line and pole caught' which is often labelled.
Some suggested questions to ask:
- Are any of your fish line-caught?
- What would you recommend as the most sustainable fish option on your counter?
- What fish are in season off the Sussex coast at the moment?
- I usually eat cod/haddock/salmon/tuna, can you suggest a sustainable alternative?
- Which of your fish have been caught locally?
Here is a guide to commonly used fishing methods
5. Buy Marine Stewardship Certified (MSC) fish
Labels are a quick and easy way of judging whether the fish you are buying is sustainable.
Buying MSC certified fish is a good option if you do most of your shopping in supermarkets. They do the hard work for you as they ensure sustainability throughout the supply chain. Look out for packaging that contains their blue logo but be careful not to be swayed by the dozens of other similar looking labels that are often run by for-profit companies and do not guarantee the same levels of sustainability.
You can also buy MSC certified frozen, tinned or smoked fish, which are often cheaper.
A new accreditation programme called the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) covers responsibly-farmed seafood. Look out for vegetarian farmed fish such as Tilapia which don't eat mass amounts of smaller fish to grow.
6. Improve your fish preparation and cooking skills
Gaining confidence choosing and cooking fish will allow you to buy less usual varieties. Cooking fish can be quick and easy. Most fish can be grilled, baked, steamed, shallow fried or even microwaved.
If you buy whole fish and cook it on the bone, you will get more flesh from it and can use the bones and head to make stock, helping it go further.
Venture out of your comfort zone with one of our tasty recipes. And here are some helpful factsheets to help you get to grips with wet fish:
Brighton & Newhaven Fish Sales offer regular fish and shellfish preparation courses. They do beginners and advanced preparation sessions which costs £30. Check for upcoming course dates.