Stocks and scares for salmon consumers

By William Sitwell, June 18, 2009

This month has seen the release of a film that hopes to do for fish what An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change.

End of the Line is produced by environmental journalist Charles Clover, whose book of the same name made considerable ripples. The movie, it is hoped, will produce a somewhat larger splash.

It’s beautifully shot, there’s great music and it’s all cut with powerful, dramatic footage of Charles and his cohorts travelling the world and challenging everyone from fishing companies to restaurants on the subject of sustainability.

Now you might think that this is all a bit of a nuisance. Yet another burden on the poor consumer who is already besieged by messages to buy Fairtrade or organic or to choose his or her wines according to the moon’s lunar cycles. But it is important to eat ethically, even if it means the consumer facing the challenge of questioning the sustainability of everyday items such as tuna and salmon. When buying your smoked salmon sandwich, it’s important that you avoid wild Atlantic salmon, considered under threat due to overfishing, and go for wild Alaskan salmon instead.

So why all the fuss? Here are some statistics to mull over. An international group of economists and ecologists have warned that our seas could actually run out of fish by 2048. Recent research reveals the staggering fact that the world’s wild fish reserves peaked in 1989 and have been declining ever since.

Ninety per cent of the ocean’s large fish have been fished out and global fishing fleets are 250 per cent larger than the oceans can sustainably support.

And did you know that one of the world’s biggest fishing companies is Mitsubishi? And there we were thinking they just made cars. Mitsubishi come under particular attack in the film because of the way they have fished, almost to extinction, blue fin tuna. And they are rather sneakily freezing massive stocks. Which means that when the fish runs out they’ll control the market.

So if you don’t like the idea of huge trawlers throwing back eighty per cent of their catch dead and unwanted into the sea to meet quotas and market demands, or the idea that these same trawlers scour the sea floor in a manner that is the equivalent of ploughing a field seven times a year, do something.

Ask chefs and restaurateurs where they buy their fish. Is it from a sustainable source? How was it caught? Who caught it? How traceable is it? We must challenge any chef not to buy fish that is not traceable or sustainable.

With such a huge and fantastic choice of fish that will not assist the destruction of species, there is no excuse.

William Sitwell is editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010