Is sustainable fishing sustainable?

Sustainable fish are in right now in Britain. While organic food has seen a slump in sales since the recession – the public seemingly hold such values less highly when money is less readily available – sustainable fish has soared.

A study by the Co-op last year found that sales of organic food in supermarkets was down 21% from its £1.9bn high in 2008, but sustainable fish sales more than quadrupled in the same period, from £69m to £292m.

There are a number of possible reasons for this.


A number of high-profile campaigns from celebrity chefs have helped bring awareness to the issues surrounding sourcing fish. Raymond Blanc has chaired national forums and written on the topic, while Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall has produced several programmes for Channel 4 that have brought the message to a mainstream audience.

Supermarkets have also successfully taken sustainable fish to their shelves (as the above figures show), so much so that they make up a healthy percentage of the stock of many companies.

Which brings us on to fast food.

There has often been an imagined jarring or juxtaposition between ethical food and fast food. Some firms have bucked this trend – Chipotle in America was one early example – but now McDonalds is threatening to smash the conception for good.

Fast to last

The fast food giant agreed at the start of the year to make the fish in all of its Filet ‘O’ Fish burgers in America sustainably-sourced produce, in addition to its European restaurants.

This is obviously a huge coup for the sustainable market, as it catapults it firmly into the mainstream. But is it good in the long term?

A few months ago I wrote about how large companies had hijacked the Fairtrade message, so while profits were soaring and produce was being bought by the masses, this was largely down to the absence of thinking about the issues, a far cry from the original purpose of Fairtrade.

With sustainable fishing, this arguably doesn’t matter as much: as long as the decline of fish populations slows as more people change their methods, its a positive outcome.

However, is there a danger such a giant company as McDonalds committing to sustainable produce could harm it?


The very premise of sustainable fishing is to harvest fish at a sustainable rate so that populations do not dramatically decrease; if McDonalds are harvesting enough Alaskan pollock to feed their millions of customers every year, it only serves to feed sceptics of sustainable food such as Daniel Pauly that it doesn’t solve the problem of declining fish levels.

Obviously, some fish are more popular than other and so the lists provided by groups such as Sustainable Fish City advising on the best fish to eat change with consumption trends. Not all fish are identical though, and whether we would accept a change from Alaskan pollock to a different fish for the purposes of sustainability remains to be seen.

This piece isn’t meant to be negative in tone, and McDonalds should be commended for their commitment to the environment.

It will certainly be a challenge though to see how the mass consumerism of a major food retailer marries with the idea of conserving fish populations.

Have your own thoughts on sustainable fishery and the problems it faces? Get in touch and let us know.


One response to “Is sustainable fishing sustainable?

  1. Pingback: Ethical spending on the rise despite the recession | Eco Eats·

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