Don't feel guilty about a haddock supper

The Scottish fishing industry has a proud record in the past decade of improving the sustainability of North Sea and West of Scotland stocks.

Mike Park is chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association

We have engaged with many environmental NGOs to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring the fish that provide tens of thousands of us with our livelihoods remain abundant enough to do the same for our sons and daughters, and for our grandsons and granddaughters.

The industry has won green awards for this work, and plaudits from some unlikely sources in the process.

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So when the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) announced recently that consumers should think twice about buying haddock in the fishmonger or at their local chippy, we were incensed by the implication that we were somehow acting in an irresponsible fashion by catching too much haddock.

Haddock

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The MCS assessment of the current risk to the stock was inaccurate and the statements of individuals from the organisation in support of its claims were thoroughly damaging and misleading.

Fish stocks fluctuate for a variety of reasons – natural cycles, climate, size of predator stocks, what fishermen catch or don’t catch.

But the scientific assessments of stocks that feed into decisions about how much fish can be caught in a given year take account of these fluctuations.

Haddock

To get technical for a minute, fish stocks are regarded as being sustainable when the amount of fish caught is below the maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

For haddock that has been the case since 2007 – and only last year advice from fisheries scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) was for an increase in the catch of 30 per cent. They then discovered that there had been an error in their assessments, corrected the statistical model and recommended a reduction in the catch of 45 per cent, which was adopted.

As a result, the fishery continues to be managed at sustainable levels, and the spawning stock for haddock will increase significantly next year.

As James Simpson of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which certifies sustainable fisheries and is not to be confused with the MCS, said: “The Scottish haddock fishermen have already worked with the government to set lower quotas in response to the latest scientific advice.

“In fact they’ve set their catches even lower than the recommendations. It’s a bold move to protect the haddock stock for the long term. This is a great example of a responsible reactive management responding to fluctuations in stock status and that’s exactly what MSC certification is about: long-term sustainability. You can still choose MSC certified Scottish haddock for your Friday night fish and chips with a clean conscience.”

After this had been pointed out, the MCS clarified its position and said it had not called for haddock to be taken off menus.

This episode highlights that lazy assumptions continue to be made about an industry that has, through the sacrifices of the individuals who work on boats every day, pro-actively transformed itself in recent years.

So to those who wish to criticise the industry’s commitment to sustainability, or give advice to consumers, I say this: do your research and 
concentrate on the facts established by scientists. Please don’t peddle myths.

Mike Park is chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association