Giving Fish a Fair Shake

Salmon Trout Marcus Österberg

It’s hard to get especially fond of fish. Aquarium fish, possibly, but your bog standard shoal of North Sea cod or lonesome fresh water trout do not make you feel quite the same way a herd of liquid-eyed Herefords or a couple of frolicking Gloucester Old Spots.

These animals are more in evidence than their underwater counterparts, so perhaps that’s another reason why, in the past, fish were lower down the pecking order when it came to fish 'husbandry'. They aren’t quite so…well, 'in-your-face'. It took a fish shortage threat to compel us into action and take a closer look at this water-loving vertebrate.

With the demand for fish as a healthy eating option on the rise, globally it makes sense to ensure our stocks won’t be depleted, and those species still swimming in our oceans and rivers are given a decent stab at breeding and replenishing in optimum conditions. It’s only fair, isn’t it? Our farmyard friends are given this opportunity, so why not their aquatic relatives?

Well, you’ll be relieved to hear a lot of work is being done in this watery area (I know I was relieved). I enjoy a pan-fried fillet of sea bass as much as the next person, so the thought of not having this option on the menu would make me wonder if I’d have to choose the veggie dish instead. Fish farming, or aquaculture, is a way of meeting supply and demand, and a good alternative to the over-fishing issue. However, these 'farms' aren’t without their own hazards. They aren’t necessarily so great for the environment, and the amount of wild fish required to feed these net-penned inmates poses other problems. That’s why environmental standards for sustainable fishing and monitoring of fish feed sources need to be in place. I must admit I am curious to know what the fish I buy, and cook, have been eating, and how they have been managed - what they’re swimming in, even. Unless these methods are scrutinised and monitored, it may well turn out that they have been swimming in antibiotics, unsavoury algae and their own faeces, to say the least. Am I eating that? Fish farming should be monitored to ensure it has minimal impact on the environment and maximum benefits for the fish and consumer whether it be a tuna, a carp or a humble mussel.

Environmental groups, sustainable organizations, wildlife charities and even HRH, The Prince of Wales, have been spotlighting this fishy issue. It seems only too obvious that as we protect our land, wildlife and domestic animals, the same concern should be applied to our marine environment and fisheries. Fisheries are integral to our marine ecosystems, and organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are able to provide standards and methods for sustainable fishing to ensure best practice.

The MSC have a certification program and eco-labelling system, which recognises and rewards sustainable fishing. It’s a global, outreaching organisation working with communities, fisheries, scientists, conservation groups, seafood companies as well as the public to promote and inform the buying community of the best environmental choices and the best fishing practices. Look out for the label in your local store or ask your fish supplier about it.

Fish might not have the personality of a frisky spring lamb, but they do deserve a head count when it comes to being part of our food chain. So let’s endeavour to be a bit more compassionate about the lifecycle of one of the most enjoyable and healthy food options and more discerning when choosing our fish dishes whether it be salmon, sea bass, lobster or a winkle.