Mackerel is no longer a sustainable choice for restaurants due to overfishing, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has warned.
The organisation has removed mackerel from its latest ethical fish to eat list saying it should now be eaten only occasionally, advising that herring or sardines are more sustainable options.
The move comes after celebrity chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver and Raymond Blanc campaigned for the use of mackerel as an alternative to cod and other species facing extinction.
However, the MCS now says that mackerel too is being exploited. "After years of being a popular sustainable choice, mackerel should no longer be appearing so regularly on your dinner plate," it warned. "The change is the result of overfishing and the subsequent suspension of the north-east Atlantic stock's MCS's certification, meaning it is no longer considered a sustainable fishery."
Bernadette Clarke, fisheries officer at the MCS, blamed much of the overfishing on Icelandic and Faroese fisheries: "The stock has moved into Icelandic and Faroese waters, probably following their prey of small fish, crustaceans and squid. As a result, both countries have begun to fish more mackerel than was previously agreed."
"In practical terms, if chefs want to know if they should continue to serve mackerel in their restaurant, we would advise them to consider the three key factors: seasonality, location (where the fish is caught) and the fishing method (in this case hand line caught). As with all sourcing issues, a good relationship with a trusted supplier can help chefs overcome sustainability issues. Chefs should also consider buying mackerel less frequently and replacing it with sustainable alternatives like pilchards and herring."
But UK fishermen say the downgrading is premature and could be counterproductive. Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation said: "The stock is actually still well above the precautionary level, even if Iceland and the Faroes continue to do this. You can ignore the MCS advice this year."
Another fish taken off the ethical 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.
However, the latest version of the list shows that herring stocks, coley and Dover sole from the Channel are all in healthy supply, while whiting from the Celtic Sea has been included for the first time.
Although cod stocks from the North Sea are still below recommended levels, a number of other popular wild fish, including haddock and lemon sole have been given the green light by the MSC. Farmed species on the list include organic Arctic charr, sturgeon caviar from closed fish farming systems, mussels, tiger prawns, rainbow trout and Atlantic halibut and salmon.
Natalie Hudd, sustainability specialist at wholesale fishmongers, James Knight of Mayfair said: "Last year, mackerel was listed as a ‘fish to eat' - now it's ‘to be eaten with caution'. This doesn't come as a surprise because last year, not only did the MCS withdraw its rating in order to review emerging scientific evidence, but seven fisheries in the North East Atlantic had their MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certifications removed through fear of overfishing of mackerel."
"Unfortunately, this story is not without precedent. For the last five years, Pollack has been heavily promoted as a sustainable alternative to Cod; now it's more expensive than Cod, and less abundant in terms of supply. Two of the listings for Pollack are now rated as a 4 by the MCS and therefore ‘should not be considered sustainable'.
She added: "Red Gurnard is another casualty of its recent promotion as a great sustainable and under-utilised species. It's rating has slipped from 2 to 3 due to advice to reduce catches by 20% as a result of ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) data."
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