North Sea haddock could be off the menu after the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) downgraded the fish in its Good Fish Guide after a fall in stocks.
However, fisherman have branded the downgrading of the fish in the sustainability stakes as "silly and unhelpful".
The MCS has downgraded the sustainability rating of haddock from three fisheries in its Good Fish Guide, including one on the west coast of Scotland. Two of the fisheries on the society's list have been changed from green to amber, after scoring just four in its scale that goes from one to five, with one being the most sustainable and five being "a fish to avoid". The other fishery has a change from haddock being "good to eat" to one to eat occasionally, with a "three" rating.
However, the Good Fish Guide also states: "Depending on how and where it's caught, this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Check individual options to make the best choice."
The sustainability and availability of haddock depends on where it is caught, and the Good Fish Guide has details of 17 fisheries all with varying colours and ratings. For example, haddock caught at sea by a demersal otter trawl in the North East Atlantic (FAO 27) is rated light green and has been graded ‘two'. A score of two is described as "still a good choice, although some aspects of its production or management could be improved."
The Scottish White Fish Producers Association has stated: "North Sea haddock remains a well-managed sustainable stock."
And according to the fisherman manning vessel Budding Rose PD418, who fishes out of Peterhead in Scotland, "The story is utter rubbish. Our stocks of haddock are accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council and are completely sustainable."
Callum Richardson, chef owner of the Bay Fish & Chips in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, told The Caterer: "This is a misleading PR story from MCS." Richardson will be talking about this subject on Scottish TV (STV) at 1pm today.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fisherman's Federation, who was quoted in a story by The Guardian, added: "We have gone to enormous lengths to maintain fishing stocks, including haddock. We completely reject this [downgrade]; it's silly, it's unhelpful and the public should ignore it."
Laky Zervudachi director of sustainability & epicurean at fish and seafood supplier, Direct Seafoods added: "Today's update, from the MCS, which shifts certain haddock fisheries off the coast of Scotland from a 3 rating to an amber 4 rating has caused a certain amount of confusion as to the sustainability of haddock in general.
"The position for Direct Seafoods however remains that the vast majority of the haddock sourced and supplied by Direct Seafoods comes from MSC certified fisheries in Iceland and Norway that remain on the MCS fish to eat list and are rated 2 Green by the MCS, the small amount not from there come from various small fisheries around the country.
Directs Seafood's view on the Scottish haddock fisheries coincides with the MSC view that: "The Scottish North Sea haddock fishery is still MSC certified due to the strong management they have in place to deal with changing stocks. The Scottish haddock fishermen have already worked with the government to set lower quotas in response to the latest scientific advice. In fact they've set their catches even lower than the recommendations. It's a bold move to protect the haddock stock for the long term. This is a great example of a responsible reactive management responding to fluctuations in stock status and that's exactly what MSC certification is about: long-term sustainability. You can still choose MSC certified Scottish haddock for your Friday night fish and chips with a clean conscience. "
"As a result we will continue to support Scottish fishermen by sourcing MSC Scottish haddock for customers who request it."
Jimmy Buchan, owner of the Amity Fish Company and a well-known skipper at Peterhead and recently appointed business manager of the Scottish Seafood Association (SSA), the trade body for the country's processing industry, also commented today.
"Since 2007 the spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been above the reference point for maximum sustainable yield (MSY) with fishing mortality being lower than the MSY reference point (a well-managed sustainable fishery). Indeed, only last year the advice had been for an increased catch of 30%.
"During the 2016 assessment an error in the stock assessment model was discovered. In addressing this matter, fisheries scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) corrected the statistical model, reviewed the reference points for fishing mortality and reassessed the advice.
"The updated assessment resulted in a reduction in the haddock catch advice by 45%. This is based on fishing for 2017 at a rate of 0.1, (ie. fishing at the sustainable rate of MSY)
"This will see the spawning stock, which is currently above the precautionary approach reference point, increasing to 206,000 tonnes next year, well above the MSY reference point.
"Haddock fishing activity is being managed at sustainable levels."