Fish facts

Here you can find two very important fish lists. First is a list of ten fish we would avoid eating, or including in a restaurant menu, because they are currently overexploited. Following that is a list of ten fish we would eat with a clear conscience. Both are taken from Fish Online, a database compiled by the Marine Conservation Society, which we regard as the best European guide to date.

For information on other species, consult www.fishonline.org or check out The Sustainable Fish City's Top Ten Fish Swap for recipes and further species information.

Ten fish to avoid

  • Atlantic cod
    (Gadus morhua)

    Avoid eating because:

    Atlantic Codwith the exception of the Northeast Arctic, most cod stocks in the north-east Atlantic are overfished or at an unknown level. The most depleted stocks are in the Irish Sea, North Sea, and West of Scotland. In the Celtic Sea the situation is better but it is still listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species in this area. The north-east Arctic (Barents Sea) cod stock is healthy and is fished at a sustainable level, as are Icelandic waters. Part of the Norwegian longline fishery for cod in the north-east Arctic has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and is available in the UK. Avoid eating cod from stocks which are depleted and where fishing is at unsustainable levels and choose line-caught cod wherever possible.

    Good alternatives:

    MSC certified Atlantic cod from the north-east Arctic or Pacific cod, which is also certified as sustainable by the MSC. To reduce the impacts on the marine environment choose line caught cod from fisheries where measures are taken to reduce the bycatch of non-target species and seabirds.

  • Atlantic salmon
    (Salmo salar)

    Avoid eating because:

    Atlantic Salmonwild-caught Atlantic salmon are severely depleted and stocks have halved over the last two decades. Overfishing is one factor but not the only reason for the decline. Others problems include pollution, environmental changes, aquaculture, and impediments on migration routes. There are several individual salmon stocks across the UK, some of them healthier than others and ICES recommends that fishing for salmon should take place only in rivers where they are known to be above minimum conservation levels. In 2013 the MCS introduced an exception to its blanket recommendation that wild Atantic salmon be avoided; it rated fish from some rivers in the UK as an “occasional eat”. If caught at sea it is considered to be impossible to tell if they originate from healthy or depleted populations.

    Good alternatives:

    Organically farmed Atlantic salmon or MSC certified Pacific salmon from Alaska. There are five salmon species from the Alaskan fishery all of which have been certified as sustainable to MSC standards.

  • Wild Atlantic halibut
    (Hippoglossus hippoglossus)

    Avoid eating because:

    Halibutwild Atlantic halibut is heavily overfished, which means it is caught in such high numbers that a sustainable fishery cannot be maintained by the current population size. Assessed by IUCN - World Conservation Union as Endangered. Listed as a species of concern by NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2004.

    Good alternatives:

    Farmed Atlantic halibut from onshore open circuit systems such as those used in Scotland. Also Pacific halibut that has been certified to MSC standard from the US states of Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

  • European eel
    (Anguilla anguilla)

    Avoid eating because:

    European Eelthere is only one European eel stock and it is at a historical minimum. The stock continues to decline and is dangerously close to collapse. Eels are exploited in all life stages. Eels spawn only once in their lifetime and it is almost certain they die after spawning. In 2007, European eel was listed under CITES Appendix II which allows trade in a species but under strict conditions. Eels are also farmed but rely on juveniles from wild stocks. In 2012 ICES described the situation of eel as critical. Some eel is available under the ‘Sustainable Eel Standard’ but scientists at ICES still advise that none be caught.

    Good alternatives:

    No similar fish can be recommended.

  • Atlantic bluefin tuna
    (Thunnus thynnus)

    Avoid eating because:

    TunaAtlantic bluefin tuna, also known as Northern bluefin tuna, is slow-growing and long-lived, making it vulnerable to overfishing. It has suffered severe declines, with estimates suggesting numbers may have fallen by up to 90 per cent since the 1970s. Fishing of Atlantic stocks is considered unsustainable by the MCS and stocks are below safe levels. It is classified as endangered by the IUCN. In 2012 stocks were found by scientists to be showing the first, albeit uncertain, signs of recovery but it is still being overfished, particularly with pirate fishing estimated to increase the total catch by up to 77 per cent.

    Good alternatives:

    Among the most sustainable options for any of the tuna species are MSC certified albacore tuna from the American Albacore Fishing Association in the South Pacific, and pole and line caught skipjack tuna from the Republic of Maldives or the western and central Pacific. For yellowfin tuna, the troll and the pole and line fisheries in the Maldives and the wider Indian Ocean are considered sustainable.

  • King or tiger prawns (uncertified)
    (Litopenaeus vannamei / Panaeus monodon)

    Avoid eating because:

    Prawnsintensive farming of king or tiger prawns can seriously damage the environment and local communities in South East Asia. These include loss of mangroves to pond areas, the risk of salination of freshwater bodies, the use of chemicals and the spread of disease to wild prawns. Another concern is prawns are being fed on unsustainable fish meal and fish oil.

    Good alternatives:

    only buy prawns with a responsible certification, such as GAA(Global Aquaculture Alliance)or an Organic label to ensure environmental standards for mangrove protection and production are met.

  • Sturgeon and caviar
    (Acipenser and Huso spp.)

    Avoid eating because:

    Sturgeonsturgeon are vulnerable to over-exploitation. Their vulnerability comes not just from their popularity in dishes but because they are generally long-lived, slow to mature, and depend on large rivers to spawn. Consequently many of the 27 species are in rapid decline.

    Good alternatives:

    Farmed sturgeon and their caviar are a more sustainable option than wild caught fish, though many still rely on wild caught broodstock. MCS describe farmed sturgeon and caviar from closed-water systems as the best option.

  • Whitebait
    (Clupea harengus and others)

    Avoid eating because:

    Whitebait are juvenile fish. It is the name given to a range of small, silvery, immature fish. In Europe, young herring are the fish that most commonly make up whitebait but it can include other types such as sprat and sandeel. They are generally caught in large quantities but, being juveniles, have never had the opportunity to breed. Catches of the juveniles put pressure on the overall stock levels.

    Good alternatives:

    Anchovy, herring, sardine and scad.

  • Orange roughy
    (Hoplostethus atlanticus)

    Avoid eating because:

    Orange roughyThey are a deep sea species and the European fishery collapsed in 2010 because of overfishing. Stocks in other parts of the world have also collapsed or are close to it. There is no sustainable management of stocks in the North Atlantic. Even if the species is allowed to recover, it is likely to take decades because the fish is so long-lived and slow-growing. It can live for 150 years but doesn’t reach breeding age until 25 to 30.

    Good alternatives:

    There are no obvious alternatives.

  • Skates and rays
     

    Avoid eating because:

    Skatesthe Common Skate no longer deserves its name as it is now listed by IUCN as critically endangered. Avoid eating skates and rays, unless you are absolutely certain they are thornback rays, spotted rays or cuckoo rays from the few remaining fisheries that are not classified by the MCS as 'to avoid'. Even those fisheries are rated only as 'very occasional' eats because of concerns about stock levels.

    Good alternatives:

    Sustainable Fish City recommend diver-caught scallops as a luxurious alternative as circles of skate wing are sometimes sold as fake scallops.

Ten fish to eat

  • Sardine or pilchard
    (Sardina pilchardus)

    Good to eat because

    Sardinesthe best choice to make in terms of selectivity is to choose pilchard caught in coastal waters off Cornwall in the South West of England using traditional drift or ring nets.

  • Anchovy
    (Engraulis encrasicolus)

    Good to eat because

    In the Bay of Biscay anchovies are considered to be at full reproductive capacity and stock levels are higher than they have been since 1987. This follows the closure of the area to anchovy fishing in 2005, a move that was prompted by the collapse of the stock. The fishery reopened in 2010 and has improved sufficiently to be rated as fish to eat. Anchovy from the Portuguese coast is also thought to be healthy but there is a lack of data and it should be treated as an occsional eat.

  • Black bream, seabream or porgy
    (Spondyliosoma cantharus)

    Good to eat because

    Black BreamYou can increase the sustainability of the fish you eat by choosing line-caught fish, or fish taken in fixed nets where measures to deter marine mammals have been adopted. Avoid eating immature fish (less than 23cm) caught prior to and during their spawning season (April & May in UK inshore waters), thus allowing them chance to spawn or reproduce.

  • Coley or saithe
    (Pollachius virens)

    Good to eat because

    Coley or saithe stocks in the Northeast Arctic, North Sea, Skaggerak, West of Scotland and Rockall are healthy and harvested sustainably. Avoid eating immature saithe below 50-60 cms and during its breeding time January to March.

  • Herring
    (Clupea harengus)

    Good to eat because

    there are plenty of heathy stocks in the North East Atlantic and there are several fisheries that have been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. The Marine Conservation Society recommends herring as a fish to eat when caught in the North Sea, Norwegian waters, the northern Celtic Sea, Iceland, south of Ireland and the Bothnian Sea. However, herring from other areas need to be treated with degree of caution as the MCS rates them only as fish to eat occasionally or not at all.

  • Mussels
    (Mytilus edulis)

    Good to eat because

    they are grown on ropes in the UK, a form of cultivation that does not require chemicals to be used and has a low impact on the environment. They are usually handpicked. Because the farmed mussels are grown from naturally occurring spat, the escape of cultivated stocks poses no threat to wild-growing shellfish

  • Skipjack tuna
    (Euthynnus pelamis, Katsuwonus pelamis)

    Good to eat because

    Pacific and Indian Ocean stocks are considered healthy and are not being overfished. Pole and line fishing a highly selective method and among the best choices, though skipjack from some – not all - of the purse seine fisheries is also a good choice. Skipjack from the Atlantic, however, should only be eaten occasionally amid fears it is being overfished.

  • Dab
    (Limanda limanda)

    Good to eat because

    Limandadab are frequently caught as by-catch and then discarded so by eating them we can help to reduce this wasteful practice. They are considered an under-utilised species. In the North Sea they are, after sandeels, the most abundant fish. Try to find seine net catches as these cause less damage to the environment than beam trawls. Avoid eating fresh during the breeding season which is April to June and make sure fish are at least 20cm in length.

  • Tilapia
    (Oreochromis niloticus niloticus)

    Good to eat because

    TilapiaTilapia are herbivores and therefore are given little or no feed based on wild fish. Among the best sources of tilapia are those certified as sustainably farmed by the newly formed Aquaculture Stewardship Council, the farmed fish equivalent of the Marine Stewardship Council. Tilapia reared in fully closed recirculation systems avoid problems such as discharges, escaped and habitat damage but those in open net pens can also be produced with minimal environmental impacts.

  • Oyster
     

    Good to eat because

    oystersShellfish farming is an extensive, low-impact method of mariculture. High quality water standards are required for cultivation of shellfish for human consumption. Areas once noted for their large natural beds are now being used for oyster farming or cultivation including non-native species such as the Pacific oyster which are currently more widely cultivated than the native oyster.

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