Widen your net to keep fish stocks sustainable

Which fish can you eat without worrying about how many are left in the sea and which ones are on the endangered list due to over-fishing? Roisin Armstrong throws some light on sustainable seafood

A sign of past times in the fishing port of Vardo, Norway

THE papers were full of the story last week that cod has finally been taken off 'redr on the fish-to-avoid list. However, before you get excited and rush off to buy fish suppers all round, it has only inched up one step on the alarm scale – it's now at amber – so cod is still a fish which should only be eaten occasionally.

“It's fantastic to see this fish finally off the red list. Years of sacrifice and a lot of hard work have led to population increases above dangerously low levels. While this certainly is a milestone for North Sea cod, the job is not done yet. Efforts of recent years need to continue in order for the fishery to head towards the green end of the spectrum,” says Marine Conservation Society fisheries officer Samuel Stone.

So the fight continues to improve some of the dangerously low levels of some of our most popular staples. Various initiatives like The Sustainable Fish Cities campaign aim to see only sustainable fish on menus in the UK and is now active in 14 towns and cities across the UK's Sustainable Food Cities Network. Brakes, the biggest processor of fish in the UK, has pledged to only use sustainable fish in its thousands of products supplied to schools, councils, universities, hospitals, workplaces and iconic venues. This is expected to encourage other such pledges from smaller producers.

The list of fish that you can eat with a clear conscience can depend on how the fish are caught so if you are buying from your fishmonger always check. It seems that Alaskan pollock, anchovies, Arctic char, basa (also called tra, catfish or Vietnamese cobbler), cockles, coley, crawfish, flounder, dab, some hake and halibut, prawns, or langoustines, some salmon species, sardines, scallops, tilapia and trout are OK to eat.

Of these sustainable fish my favorite is basa. You can usually find them in the freezer cabinet. They are great emergency food as they cook really well from frozen. Just put a fillet on top of some white rice, simmer for eight or so minutes, throw in a cup of frozen peas, drain and add a spoonful of coconut oil for the perfect fast food.

Atlantic halibut is widely farmed, although in small quantities compared to other species. Unlike salmon and cod, halibut can be farmed in closed tanks as well as in open pens. Choose halibut farmed in closed, shore-based production systems such as those used in Scotland, as the environmental impacts of production are mitigated.

Prawns are usually sold peeled, cooked and frozen or whole. Great in a curry or on a salad. The tiger prawn belongs to the largest of the prawn and shrimp family, the penaeidae. They can live up to two years in the wild although farmed prawns are usually harvested at six months. Farmed prawns accounted for over 90 per cent of global consumption. Organic farmed tiger prawns are the best choice.

Brown or sea and rainbow trout can be steamed or baked, whole or filleted, and are often smoked. They are not strongly flavoured, low in fat and it is rich in Omega 3. Brown or sea trout may be caught in the wild, but most on sale are farmed.

It's a pretty close relative to salmon and so can be interchanged in most recipes. Can be roasted, grilled, baked or barbecued, steamed or poached. A tasty treat is to marinade a couple of trout fillets in a tablespoon of both soy sauce and honey, grate in a clove of garlic and an inch of root ginger. Cook under a hot grill until firm – time will depend on size and thickness of the fillet. Serve with stir fried vegetables, rice or egg noodles.

Mackerel is brilliant; when cooked the meat is really creamy and is full of omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel is best eaten fresh and can be grilled, smoked or fried. A fast-swimming silver-and-blue-striped fish, it's related to tuna. They swim around in huge shoals which feed on small fish and prawns. Sardines are another sustainable fish with similar health properties to mackerel.

Tilapia is a low-calorie, low-carb and low-sodium protein although it has got quite a high fat content. Its plain flavour allows it to take on other tastes so can be cooked with a variety of herbs and spices. It can be used to replace cod and is becoming widely available as a sustainable choice. I haven't tried this yet but I will the next time I see it.

So widen out the variety of fish you eat – it is helping the survival of our struggling fish stocks.


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