Funding needed to boost UK fish on menus

The government should invest £400m a year in managing fisheries more fairly and sustainably, which in turn could increase the amount of UK-caught fish on restaurant and catering menus.

In a new report to mark world oceans day on Tuesday, Sustain, the food and farming alliance, said depleted fish stocks, poor data, and a lack of independent verification of sustainability for UK seafood meant the fishing industry was failing to meet its full potential with UK seafood often rejected by foodservice businesses over sustainability concerns.

It said at least 14,000 jobs could be created as part of rejuvenated coastal communities if the government invests £400m per year for ten years, instead of what it called the “meagre compensation” offered to cover losses to UK fishing communities associated with Brexit. This includes a £23m support package for businesses affected by new export requirements and an as yet unconfirmed £100m to allow the fishing sector to take advantage of Brexit. Sustain, however, said there were currently no other plans to support the British fishing industry to flourish longer term.

The report sets out how a £400m annual investment would allow fisheries to add more than £2bn annually to GDP from increased catches and associated coastal economies. This would include financial support for fishers to catch less in the short term where needed to recover stocks.

It calculates that allowing depleted fish populations to recover would yield 30% higher landings in future and create 10,000 new jobs.

The report notes that demand has been growing across the world for sustainable fish, especially in public sector institutions with many restaurant chains and caterers only serving fish that is either certified sustainable or rated 1-3 by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).

Most of the species caught around the coast of the UK at the moment do not meet this sustainability criteria, according to Sustain, which said British fishers are missing out on significant market opportunities. Some cod, langoustines (scampi), scallops, herring, bream, cuttlefish, halibut, ray, skate and whiting are considered ‘fish to avoid’ by the MCS.  

For consumers, the report says recovered fisheries could mean more favourites like cod and seabass, caught in the UK, on shelves and on menus.

Sustain is also calling for the government buying standards for food purchased for schools, hospitals, the armed forces, prisons and government departments to be strengthened to ensure public money is supporting sustainable British fish producers.

“The compensation package offered to the industry is money down the drain if it isn’t part of a bigger investment plan,” said Ruth Westcott, co-ordinator for sustainable fishing at Sustain. “If funding were focused on recovering marine ecosystems and fish stocks, and allocating fishing rights fairly, the industry and beleaguered coastal communities could thrive.”

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