Sustainability is one of those words that’s thrown around in our industry like salt into a pot. People use it as a sales pitch or some sort of ethical justification without actually giving any provenance to what they’re referring to, or putting into it context.
Let’s start by looking at the word sustainable itself. Sustainable means a system or environment, that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse.
I always find that the word ‘sustainability’ in the fishing industry is something that needs close inspection. The Marine Stewardship Council says you can buy a sustainable scallop from a dredged fishery. But my question would be: how can a fishery that scrapes the seabed of all life, be sustainable? Even though the scallops return, you are left with a wasteland that will only support basic mobile species and lacks diversity.
Things get even more complicated when you start looking at farmed fish. I have worked on salmon farms and in my mind, even though it may create a product that in itself may not deplete natural salmon stocks, it is by no means a sustainable or ethical way of fishing. Just look at the sheer volume of wild fish required to feed the farmed salmon or the expected mortality rate compared to the biomass in any single pen and things start to get complicated.
In 2016 there were reported losses of 22,479 tons of salmon. That’s an enormous amount of fish and 23% of the total stock they started with. It is also just one figure pulled out of a whole heap of other ethical issues including escapes, genetic modification, Bleachinf, use of flesh dye, shooting of seals, Lice, Polution and the list goes on and on.
But, unfortunately, the ethics of this industry are far from the public’s attention. For now, just imagine walking past a farmer’s field and seeing thousands of cows gently smouldering in the corner, the public outcry would change cattle farming forever.
In short, there is no easy answer to sustainable seafood. However, if we’re all more mindful of seasonal produce, instead of demanding the staple diet of cod and haddock all year around and look to support our local British Fleet, instead of importing Greek bass and by using all of the diversity of delicious seafood our coastline has to offer, I think we can find a happy medium, that not only sustains struggling fish stocks but will also reinvigorate our downtrodden coastal communities, whose fishing fleets are in dire need of support.