How much fish do we import?

Part of living sustainably is of course to be able to grow and produce as much as you can close to home. With some foods, that isn’t going to be possible, but how does it work with fish?

It can be possible for an individual to live off fish that is caught relatively near their domain, but the UK still imports millions of tonnes of fish every year. Thanks to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, it is possible to see how the amount of fish imported has changed in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

As the first chart shows, overall there has been a decline but it has not been linear.

Amount of fish imported to the UK (tonnes)

From 2.16m tonnes in 2000, the total has gone down to 1.7m, a figure that has flatlined for the last three years. But as it also shows, 2005 and 2006 saw rises, meaning that it cannot be put that we have been importing less each year.

To investigate further, it is worth breaking down fish and seafood into different parts to help show change in more detail.

In actual fact, all categories of fish and seafood bar one rose in this period of ten years, as this next chart illustrates.

Fish Import Breakdown 1


Between 2000 and 2009, more of each category of fish came into the UK, with significant rises in crustaceans, demersal fish, and freshwater fish.

Yet, this does not invalidate the general fall, that is still there.

Fish Import Breakdown 3


The key to the fall then is pelagic fish, but just what does that cover?

Pelagic fish are fish that live close to the surface of water, as opposed to demersal, which live near the bottom.

Pelagic fish include herring and mackerel, whereas demersal fish include code, plaice, sole, turbot, halibut, and hake.

This leaves quite a confusing result, as it would be expected to be the other way around. Part of the solution of groups such as Sustainable Fish City is that fish such as mackerel should be eaten instead of cod, so it seems odd that cod increases went up while mackerel went down.

Of course, we don’t have the figures yet for the past three years so it could be possible that some change could have occurred.

In addition, there were still significantly more tonnes of pelagic fish imported than demersal fish, so that is more cause for optimism.

However, the data does suggest that there is a long way to go before fish are sourced in a more sustainable way in the UK.


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