These days every fishmonger must have a policy on sustainability. This is not a simple subject.
A hundred years of overfishing – intensified over the last 40 years by technology and globalisation – has reduced the stocks of many species of fish to critically low levels.
Today, most of the fish mankind eats is farmed. This takes some of the pressure off wild stocks, yet fish farming sometimes seems no less of a threat than overfishing: Scottish lochs full of farming waste, mangroves cleared for prawn farming, farmed species of every kind escaping to mix genes with wild stocks. The good news, as fish farming has become the dominant source of seafood they farmers are getting cleaner and smarter.
Farmed fish has recently overtaken wild seafood capture. Source: The World Bank
Fish is a complex global industry. Our fish might pass through six or more companies before it reaches us. We might routinely buy the same item from three suppliers each with its own supply chain. We are a small business and with a very wide range. It is frankly impossible for us to put our hands up and say we know we are 100% sustainable. We don’t believe any company retailing a wide range of fish could justify such a claim. It is not very comfortable to be honest with you about the challenges presented by sustainability.
Sustainable Icelandic cod. Source: Iceland Olympic fish stories
And yet, there are some positives. Overfishing began to be addressed 60 years ago when Iceland declared a 200-mile limit, expelled our trawlers and restricted its own. Fishing control got a big boost when Canada spectacularly wiped out its Newfoundland cod fishery in 1992. Norway, the EU, Canada and the USA read the runes. In the nick of time, and by a two steps forward one step backward process, politicians and fishermen do seem to be getting to grips with overfishing. Even China – since 2000, the fastest expanding big plunderer of fish stocks – has now officially acknowledged that the game is up.
Only the poorest third world countries have failed to grasp the blinding truth that continued overfishing can only spell disaster. There is a long way to go, but the direction is forwards.