‘Healthy seas supporting productive fisheries’
As an island nation we’re fortunate to have access to some great fish and seafood, particularly here in Cornwall in particular where we are surrounded by the sea on three sides and have a well-managed fishing industry.
Because of the importance of Cornish-caught fish to the local economy (both the fishers who work our waters and the fish merchants and restaurants and cafes that sell and serve their catch), and the fragility of harvesting wild fish and seafood from the ocean, it’s important that all of us make well-informed and sustainable decisions about what we eat. At various points in the past fish stocks of certain species or particular areas have been overfished or damaging methods used, and stocks have critically declined or collapsed. It happened with the Cornish pilchard and herring fisheries through the early decades of the 20th century, and with mackerel in the mid 1980s (in 1989 the European Economic Community introduced the 6,7000km2 ‘Mackerel Box’ covering the waters around Southwest England and Southwest Wales in which there is a ban on targeted fishing for mackerel by trawlers and purse seiners, and where a hand-line fishery operates with a separate quota allocation). It’s important that we don’t let these sorts of collapses happen again, for the sake of the marine environment and the livelihoods of people who work in the fishing industry, many of whom in Cornwall fish inshore from small boats using inherently sustainable methods. So that’s not to say that we can’t eat fish and shellfish at all, we just need to make informed decisions that are environmentally and economically sustainable.
That’s where the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide comes in.
“The Cornish fishing industry is something we should all be proud of, but knowing what fish to buy is a complicated issue. The Cornwall Good Seafood Guide is an incredible resource that is constantly updated so that consumers as well as those in the fishing and food industries can plainly see what’s best and most sustainable to eat.”Matt Slater, Marine Awareness Officer & Project Lead, Cornwall Wildlife Trust
Launched in 2015 and led by Cornwall Wildlife Trust in partnership with representatives from Cornwall’s fishing industry, the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide aims to help us consumers to eat more sustainable and locally caught seafood. It uses the Marine Conservation Society’s sustainable seafood rating system that is known nationwide, and applies it to fish and shellfish available in Cornwall using local data about fisheries’ health to promote or protect certain species.
Alongside their rating system, fishers, fish-sellers and restaurants can apply to be supporters of the Cornwall Good Seafood guide meaning they have taken a pledge to highlight sustainable Cornish seafood and to offer it to their customers. Philleigh Way Cookery School are supporters and we are proud to be helping spread the word about this vital and important project.
We recently caught up with Oscar Miller, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Fisheries Liaison and Marine Business Advisor, to find out more about how Cornwall Good Seafood Guide came to be, how it’s developed, and what’s in store for the scheme.
What was it that prompted the creation of a sustainable seafood guide specific to Cornwall?
For years the members of Cornwall Wildlife Trust were asking for information on seafood – what to eat and what not to eat. We found it was very difficult to find information on the subject, and hard for experts let alone members of the public to make well-informed choices. We decided to work to bring together information on all of Cornwall’s fishing industry into one place where the public could get unbiased information on sustainability. We wanted to rate seafood on its sustainability but rather than create our own system for doing that we decided to work with an existing system – the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide – to provide clear, detailed information on the sustainability of Cornwall’s seafood. The aim is to help businesses and consumers make well informed choices and to help incentivise and steer the fishing industry in a more sustainable direction for the long-term benefit of fishers and our amazing marine environment and its wildlife. Well-managed fisheries provide the most efficient way to provide high quality protein, however poorly managed fisheries result in over fishing and depleted fish populations meaning that fishers and the marine environment are worse off. It’s in everyone’s interest to get fishing right – using the methods with the lowest impact and managing effort to ensure that fish populations are allowed to recover and stay high. This makes the system far more productive and yields the best possible annual catches without risking overfishing.
How has the project developed over the last eight years?
We now have a huge amount of traffic to our website, with over 10,000 visitors each month. We have noticed a real improvement in understanding of the industry, and increased awareness from businesses and the public about what to eat and the need for good fisheries management to prevent unsustainable fishing.
How have the fishing industry, hospitality industry, and consumers responded?
Many businesses have changed their menus and have offered local sustainable seafood to their customers. The public are definitely asking businesses and seafood sellers more questions. We have seen a big increase in the number of people buying seafood online, particularly since COVID, and many fish sellers now use our logo to highlight sustainable Cornish options to their customers. Consumers are now far better informed, which is positive. Prices for sustainable seafood are responding well, so fishers are being rewarded for fishing well. Many large buyers of seafood will avoid species with poor ratings so the information is definitely having an impact and incentivising improved fishing management.
Does the project have an end goal or is it ever evolving and reactive to circumstances?
The fishing industry is always changing – at the moment the management of fishing is massively changing due to our leaving the EU, and we are now faced with an opportunity to get fisheries management right for the long term benefit of the fishing industry and the marine environment. It is vital that the public are kept well informed and that we continue to realise the importance of good management of fisheries. Climate change is also creating massive changes in the distribution of fish species across the Atlantic Ocean and over future years we are likely to see warm water species continue to thrive while cool water species decline. The situation is constantly changing and our website and ratings respond to these changes.
We hope to continue providing information to consumers and businesses for many years to come and see our project as being vital in the long term to help influence the fishing industry positively.
If you had one piece of advice for readers about consuming fish, what would it be?
Ask questions! How was it caught? Is it Cornish? Get to know your local fishers and fish sellers and ask for sustainable seafood. Visit our website to check which species and capture methods are on our recommended list. Making sure that you only eat seafood from local well managed fisheries and avoid seafood that has been transported from other areas of the world (with the associated high carbon footprint and often poorer fisheries management) is one of the best ways you can help our oceans.
You can check out the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide here to see their list of recommended fish and shellfish, and recipes from local chefs for how to best enjoy them. If you’re buying fish or ordering it in a restaurant, look out for their logo or ask before you buy!