Guilt-free fish and chips

Whether we live by the beach,are going there on holiday or are just pretending, we will probably have at least one portion of fish and chips this summer. But what type of fish should we eat to be  most environmentally- friendly? Even I, with four years of studying marine science under my belt, find it confusing deciding which fish is best. Should we go for the most sustainable fishery? Or support our local fishermen (if we have them) over the large trawl boats, even if it means eating an overfished species?

Advice is out there. Nearly all of us will recognise the Marine Stewardship Council’s label for approved fisheries however this label does not usually appear in your average fish and chip shop. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has a wealth of advice on its website, but the only place I have ever seen their handy leaflets (advertising what species are sustainable to eat) is in the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton – which is not much help to the majority of people! Below I will try and summarise the best advice I can find as to the most sustainable and environmentally- friendly fish.

Or Gadus morhua. The British favourite for fish and chips. None of our Atlantic cod fisheries are 100%  sustainable.  Where the cod is caught within the Atlantic makes a real difference to the sustainability of the fishery. Unfortunately many of  the fishing areas close to our coast have the worst rating possible (from the MCS website). These include the Celtic Sea, Irish Sea and North Sea stocks. The least overfished and most sustainable stocks are from waters around Iceland and the east Baltic Sea. This is helpful to know when buying cod in the supermarket but not down at the local fish and chip shop, where the fish is likely to have been sourced closer to home and from an overfished stock.

So what are our options?

Eating an alternative species of fish is the most obvious answer. Nearly all fish and chip shops offer haddock and plaice as an alternative to cod. Some more adventurous shops even offer less well known species to help prevent the wasteful practice of discards.

If we are going to eat cod, then go to a fish and chip shop you know gets it fish directly from the local fishermen (I know this isn’t helpful for those living away from the coasts- your best option is stay away from cod). Local fishermen fish with small vessels. Although some of their fishing practices are destructive, the amount they are catching and the area they are fishing is a lot less, so they cause less damage than a large trawler. More often now, local fishermen are working alongside conservation charities and government bodies to reduce overfishing and minimise the damage caused to the environment. Both the fishermen and the environment benefit from these practices. When the marine environment and the fish stocks are less heavily fished they have a chance to recover and the fishermen are able to charge more for a sustainably caught and environmentally- friendly fish.


or Melanogrammus aeglefinus. This is my recommendation as an alternative to cod. The sustainability of the stock once again depends on where it has been caught. Luckily for us, some of the most sustainable fisheries are close by, including the large North Sea fishery. The major stocks to avoid are from the Irish Sea, West Scotland and Celtic Sea.

or Pleuronectes platessa. This chip shop favourite again varies in stock sustainability. Even the most sustainable fishery (North Sea), has a lower rating compared to the most sustainable haddock and cod fisheries. However if you’re offered a choice of either North Sea cod or plaice, the plaice is the least overfished.

or Nephrops norvegicus. Unfortunately, just like plaice the sustainability rating of all stocks is pretty bad. Though all stocks apart from the Irish coast, Portuguese coast and Cantabrian Sea are on the same sustainability rating, half way between poor and good.

So, if we set ourselves the challenge of eating the most guilt-free fish and chips, we need  to find out where the fish are caught and which local species are least depleted. Overall I would try to support local fishermen, especially if they are working alongside conservation charities (such as in Cornwall). If  this collaboration is successful, it will hopefully influence how fishing is conducted all around the UK.

For more information on sustainable fisheries visit the MCS website at

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Hannah Lawson

Hannah Lawson

I'm a marine biologist working as an Environmental Scientist for a marine consultancy. I love nature and the marine environment. I try to spend as much of my spare time outside and getting involved with conservation and outdoor activities.
Hannah Lawson

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