What you can do to help fish stocks

There are plenty more fish in the sea, you just need be discerning and seek out species in abundant supply. Here's how to be a responsible food shopper, fishing jargon demystifyed, and five sustainable fish.

What you can do to help fish stocks

Be a curious consumer Most supermarkets have responsible sourcing policies and will be able to tell you where your fish comes from. Also, look out for the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue logo.

Vary the seafood you eat Not only does this take pressure off traditional fish stocks, such as cod and haddock, it also makes sure that you get the many health benefits that different types of seafood offer.

Try to eat seasonally Have a look at Eat the Seasons which tells you which seafood is in season. There are more than 100 different species of seafood caught around the coast of the UK, and many more imported, so it shouldn’t be hard to find something.

Some fishing jargon

Describes the unwanted species caught up in nets and lines, which are discarded (dead) because they are either immature, or are species that are not commercially viable.

Bottom trawling
This is the worst kind of industrial fishing, where nets are dragged along the bottom of the sea, scooping up everything in their path – the by-catch can be up to 80%.

There are two types of hook-and-line fishing. Longline involves lengthy lines (sometimes several miles long) with anything from 25 to 2,500 hooks that also ensnare by-catch. But well-managed longline fisheries use methods to minimise by-catch, and longline fishing is much less environmentally destructive than trawling. The most eco-friendly hook-and-line method is pole-and-line, aka handlining, with fish caught individually from a boat with no by-catch. When you buy ‘line caught’ fish, it could be longline or pole-and-line.

No by-catch problems here, but it does involve high-density farming of small fish to feed the farmed fish. As with any farming, the standards can vary from excellent to very poor.

Supermarkets and fishmongers have a bewildering array of fish, some of which are sustainable. The best way to ensure you’re buying sustainable fish is to ask your fishmonger about its provenance, shop around, look for the Marine Stewardship Council logo and read the labels. The following should help you make an informed decision.

Five fish to try


Heralded as the ‘fish of the future’, this white, mild-tasting freshwater fish is big business with fish farmers, as it grows super-fast. The tilapia in the shops will be farmed (China, Egypt and Southeast Asia are big exporters, and it is increasingly farmed in the UK). Tilapia are herbivores, so they do not require feed based on fish, although fish oil may be included in the feed. They are, however, farmed in high stocking densities. When buying farmed fish such as tilapia, ask your fishmonger if they have a buying policy, to ensure they get their fish from farms with high environmental and welfare standards. Tilapia recipe.


This white fish is often taken as by-catch by fishermen trawling for cod and saithe (coley), and is also fished by hook and line. The best choice, for quality and sustainability, is handlined pollock. Avoid eating immature fish (anything below 50cm) and try not to buy pollock during its breeding season (January to April). For information on handlined pollock from the waters around Cornwall, visit linecaught.org.uk. Pollock recipes.

Pacific cod

The Pacific cod fishery is well-managed with healthy stocks, and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fishery, off Alaska, was certified as an environmentally responsible fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 2006. The fishing there is longline, but by-catch is closely monitored and the fishery is closed if acceptable by-catch levels are exceeded. Cod recipes.


Most trout (brown, rainbow or sea) will be farmed. By choosing organically farmed trout, you can ensure it has been grown in cages with lower stocking densities, been fed on a sustainable supply of food and been produced to high welfare standards. Trout recipes.


Try to buy red snapper caught off the north Western Australian coast. It is a fast-growing species whose stock levels are currently healthy. The fishery is tightly managed and much of it is closed to trawling. Trap-caught fish from here are your best choice – trap fishing has minimal by-catch and little effect on the marine environment, and is certified as environmentally sustainable by the Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage. The trawl fishery here has more impact in terms of by-catch and effects on ocean habitat, but the fishery restricts these harmful effects through the use of large-scale closed areas. Snapper recipe.

For more information about Seafish, visit seafish.org


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