Cod imported from China helps UK keep food on the plate
August 21 2012 Lewis Smith
If the fish eaten in the UK were to be taken entirely from its own waters it would have to go without from now until Christmas, a report has shown.
The UK catches enough fish to last it, assuming it eats just its own supplies, until August 21 this year and from now on relies on imports. And like many other sectors in the UK, Chinese imports are helping to keep supermarket shelves full.
Iceland remains the largest exporter of cod to the UK, accounting for a quarter of imports, but China is catching up and has now overtaken Norway to be the second largest with 14,000 tonnes a year.
China is a rising force in haddock imports too. More than half comes from Iceland – 17,000 tonnes – and Norway – 16,000 tonnes – but China has now moved into third place with 8,000 tonnes in 2010, the latest year for which there are figures.
Cod is the most imported fish in the UK with 101,400 tonnes being brought in and worth £372 million, followed by 91,500 tonnes of tuna worth £226 million, and 85,900 tonnes of prawns worth £432 million.
However, the arrival of ‘fish dependence day’, as it has been dubbed by analysts, is later than last year when it fell on July 16, meaning that the UK’s level of self-sufficiency has improved.
Fish dependency day for the European Union fell on July 7, four days later than last year but three weeks earlier than it was little more than a decade ago. This is the first year, however, that the EU date has improved since 2000 and the authors of the New Economics Foundation (nef) and Oceans2012 report hope it indicates a trend towards more sustainable fishing in UK waters and around the rest of Europe.
Rupert Crilly, one of the authors of the 2012 Fish Dependence report, said the data hinted that there are at least glimmerings of hope that the seas are being treated more sustainably than previously, though he emphasised that the rate of improvement is slow and fish stocks are still far below the level they should be at.
“I think the general consensus is things are improving really slowly,” he said. “There are long-term management plans for various stocks and I think that has been helping the situation.”
He believes a fall in the level of consumption has been the main reason for the improvement in self-sufficiency, especially in Europe as a whole where there was an annual reduction of 300,000 tonnes. Whether this is from people eating less or using seafood in fewer other products, such as cat food, remains unclear.
The authors said the UK is surrounded by fisheries and if they were managed properly it could easily supply all its own needs instead of being a net importer.
Mr Crilly added: “Consumers understand that we import tuna which is virtually non-existent in its in waters; but it will wonder why we need to import cod and haddock from China when our cod and haddock stocks could deliver five and three times more catches with better management.”
Ian Campbell, of OCEAN2012, said reform proposed for the Common Fisheries Policy would help promote sustainability and he urged the UK government to increase pressure on other EU member states to accept them.
"The UK has been a progressive voice compared in the reform of the EU’s fisheries management but it will need to be much more ambitious and push others in the same direction if it wants to see the end of overfishing in and by the EU," he said.
“Fishing within sustainable levels and adapting fish consumption to available resources is the only way to regain healthy fishing grounds.”
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Association, was scathing about elements of the report which suggested EU fisheries are in an “unprecedentedly poor state”.
He said it ignored a swathe of evidence showing stocks are recovering: “This latest report is advocacy dressed up as science and economics. Our fish stocks are not in an ‘unprecedentedly poor state’ as contended in the report.
“The primary evidence for this misleading statement is based on decreased annual landings. Of course landings have decreased - but this is a logical response to allowing stocks to recover.
“In reality our stocks are in an unprecedented state of recovery following years of real sacrifice by the fishing industry. Indeed, the EC [European Commission] only very recently said that the situation was improving, which is leading to increases in quotas for some species.”
« Return to the news index
Be the first to comment on this story using the form below