Crab and lobster have been classified as “fish to avoid” by the Marine Conservation Society in its new UK guide to sustainable seafood, due to concern over whales getting entangled in Scottish fishing gear.
Monkfish from the North Sea and the west of Scotland, where populations have declined to their lowest since 2013, have also joined the guide’s list of “fish to avoid”, alongside most skates and rays. Skates and rays are in decline globally, with a third of species facing extinction due to overfishing.
The charity said its latest assessment of UK seafood shows a need for more rigorous management of British seas, as well as revealing a glaring data gap of fish and seafood stocks in Scottish waters.
Fourteen species of fish and seafood have joined the MCS’s “fish to avoid” list. Ten were added last year.
The MCS said the picture was concerning as it “was moving in the wrong direction”.
“The latest Good Fish Guide ratings – where all new UK ratings are either amber or red rated – illustrate the urgent need for transparency and better management if we’re to recover fish stocks in UK seas,” said Clara Johnston, fisheries policy manager at the MCS.
Crab and lobster populations are suffering as a result of poor management generally. In the west of Scotland, however, there is particular concern that migrating whales are getting entangled in ropes attached to crab and lobster pots more frequently. A study last year by Nature Scotland found increasing entanglements of cetaceans, sharks and turtles in crab and lobster creels.
Reported entanglements were most likely to be minke whales or basking sharks, but 95% of entanglements went unreported, the study said. The waters around Skye were the riskiest for interactions between creels fleets and whales.
Charlotte Coombes, MCS’s good fish guide manager, explained: “The migrating whales are funnelled between the mainland and the islands. Some of the evidence suggests the minke whales are not as strong swimmers as humpbacks, so minkes are more affected.”
Recent data suggest that 2.2% of the local minke population may be killed through entanglement each year.
Except for in Shetland, there are no limits to the number of pots that fishers can put in the water in Scotland.
The decline in monkfish in the North Sea and the west of Scotland is also worrying, added Coombes. “There are catch limits and that does help. But the limits apply to a wider area, so there is room for the population to be taken at higher quantities than it can sustain.”
Nine types of Scottish brown crab and lobster were classified differently in this year’s guide: eight were either “fish to avoid” (or amber, under the MCS’s traffic light system), while only one, Shetland brown crab, was rated as “best choice ” (a green traffic light).
There was some good news: 10 types of fish and shellfish were now in the “best choice” category, including sardines from off south-west England and North Sea herring.
There are 656 species ratings in all, with 161 now listed as “avoid” and 148 as “best choice”.
The Future Fisheries Alliance, a coalition between the MCS, WWF and the RSPB, is calling for fisheries management to be to strengthened. It wants to see the current draft of the Joint Fisheries Statement, due to be published at the end of the year, include targets for recovery of depleted fish populations via more effective management, a commitment to install remote electronic monitoring on vessels and urgent action to tackle wildlife bycatch.