Mackerel, once promoted by celebrity chefs as an “ethical” fish, could disappear from British dinner tables after being taken off a list of what can be eaten with a clear conscience because of overfishing.
Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Raymond Blanc have all promoted mackerel as a good alternative to cod and other species facing extinction.
The fish is not only full of the “healty oil” omega 3 but comes from British waters and can support local fishermen.
However, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) say that mackerel too is now being over exploited and have removed the species from its latest list of ethical “fish to eat”.
Much of the overfishing of mackerel has been blamed on Icelandic and Faroese fisheries.
Bernardette Clarke, fisheries officer at the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), said British fishermen were sticking to quotas to stop overfishing.
But the Icelandic and Faroese fisheries are overexploiting the stock.
“The stock has moved into Icelandic and Faroese waters, probably following their prey of small fish, crustaceans and squid,” she said.
“As a result, both countries have begun to fish more mackerel than was previously agreed.
“The total catch is now far in excess of what has been scientifically recommended and previously agreed upon by all participating countries. Negotiations to introduce new catch allowances have so far failed to reach agreement.”
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been the most vocal of the celebrity chefs about ethical fish.
In the past he has promoted mackerel as an alternative but also pointed out that the public should keep up to date with advice from conservation groups and look out for labels.
He said he would, in line with the MCS guidance, be dropping his call for mackerel to be more widely eaten except for occasional locally caught fish to support fishermen.
He was infuriated that mackerel stocks have been allowed to decline and urged countries involved in the mackerel war to reach an accord.
“When we started the mac bap campaign 2 years ago, mackerel was certified as sustainable and part of a well managed fishery,” he said.
“Unfortunately things have changed, and politics and greed are getting in the way of common sense. If the countries involved could agree sensible catch limits this could still be a certified sustainable fishery.
“We hope that these so called mackerel wars can be laid to rest as soon as possible, so we can all go back to eating mackerel again with a clear conscience.”
MCS said good alternatives to mackerel were herring and sardine, and if people wanted to continue to buy mackerel, they should ensure it is as sustainable as possible – for example, fish caught locally using traditional methods.
Another fish that was also promoted by celebrity chefs that has been taken off the “fish to eat” list is gurnard, because of a lack of data on population levels and concerns about how stocks of the increasingly popular fish are being managed.
Telegraph, 23 January 2013