UK Enjoys Last Homegrown Fish and Chips for 2011

UK Enjoys Last Homegrown Fish and Chips for 2011

New research reveals that the UK could not feed itself on fish from UK waters for more than six and a half months a year and that this trend is worsening.

In Britain we eat more fish than our seas can produce. Nearly one out of every two fish consumed in the UK comes from abroad. Fish supplies from UK waters can sustain the nation’s appetite for only 196 days a year: after that, the UK becomes dependent on fish from elsewhere, according to the Fish Dependence report from leading independent think-tank nef (the new economics foundation) and OCEAN2012.

The report shows that the day in which the UK starts relying on fish from other countries comes three weeks earlier (16 July) than last year (4 August) and six weeks earlier than in 1995 showing an increasing reliance on fish from abroad.

"In a context of finite resources and growing populations, the current model is environmentally unviable, socially unfair and makes no economic sense. We are eating into the jobs and livelihoods of fishing communities in the UK and beyond” said Aniol Esteban, head of Environmental Economics at nef and co-author of the report. “It’s a shame that our appetite for fish is not accompanied by an appetite to ensure a sustainable future for fisheries and fishing communities in the UK, Europe and beyond”

The report shows the impact of stock decline and rising consumption by mapping resources onto a calendar year and then finding the day when the EU - and each one of its member states - starts to eat the catch from the rest of the world. It shows that:

  • If people in the UK were to only eat fish from our own supplies, we would run-out of fish on 15 July, becoming dependent on fish from around the world from 16 July onwards, based on current levels of consumption.
  • The day the UK becomes fish dependent now arrives three weeks earlier than last year revealing an increasing level of dependence on fish from elsewhere.
  • Fish farming has failed to halt our increasing dependence on fish from elsewhere. If we exclude aquaculture production, the UK becomes fish dependent three weeks and a half earlier (22 June).
  • The UK is doing better than other EU member states Spain goes into fish debt on May 8, Germany on 27 April, Italy on 30 April and France on June 13, but the UK still needs to do more.
  • The whole of the EU becomes fish dependent two weeks earlier than the UK (2 July) and a week earlier than last year (9 July).
  • Each UK citizen consumes 20.3kg of fish a year, on average, below average EU consumption (22.1kg) but above global fish consumption of 17.1kg/year.

With EU catches decreasing by 30 per cent between 1995 and 2005 (1) according to Eurostat figures; and total employment in the EU fisheries sector decreasing by 23 per cent between 1997 and 2005 (2) it is clear that we need to fish and consume in a different way.

“Fish stock restoration deserves more attention than the promotion of fish consumption. Maintaining current levels of fish consumption without getting core fish stocks back into shape will only take the UK a step closer to becoming a “fish-predator nation”, such as Spain, Portugal or Japan” said Aniol Esteban from nef.

Last chance to save EU fisheries

The report points to the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy as a unique opportunity to bring fish back to UK and EU seas.

The European Commission will release a proposal for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy on 13 July. From then on it will be up to national governments and the European Parliament to shape this piece of legislation in a way that delivers healthy fish stocks for the benefit of the environment, economy and society.

The UK government has a massive opportunity to show leadership and act to secure a new EU fisheries policy that delivers sustainable and fair outcomes for all.

“It turns out that there aren’t plenty more fish in the sea after all. Unless we radically change course, we’re facing a future of abandoned fishing communities, huge job losses, depleted oceans and a sad end to a Great British meal,” said Ian Campbell from OCEAN2012 and nef. “The EU fisheries policy reform is a unique opportunity to bring fish back to British waters”.

The report urges immediate action to:

  • Reduce fishing capacity to bring it in-line with available resources by improving data collection, transparency and reporting; and by prioritising scientific advice in determining catch quotas.
  • Promote responsible consumption among all EU consumers, and implementing measures that are conducive to more responsible fishing outside EU waters.
  • Make conservation profitable, by making access to resources conditional on social and environmental criteria.
  • Use public funds to deliver social and environmental goods by investing in environmentally constructive measures, research, and stakeholder involvement, as well as enforcing sustainable quotas and practices. These aims contrast with the current funding pattern of supporting overcapacity in the fishing fleet through modernising vessels, and failure to control overfishing, for example by allowing access to fisheries stocks.

(1) Source: European Commission, Reflections on further reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. 2008
(2) Source: European Commission, A diagnosis of the EU fisheries sector. 2010