Cod from China for tomorrow's fish and chips

Cod from China for tomorrow's fish and chips

Today marks the last day UK residents eat home-grown fish in 2012, nef research shows.

  • Overfishing in UK waters means that currently at least one in three fish eaten in UK comes from outside the EU.
  • Current UK fish stocks can only meet domestic demand for 233 days a year.
  • Restoring commercial UK fish stocks would meet UK fish demand for the whole year. 

© OCEAN2012 and Corey Arnold

The UK continues to consume more fish than its seas produce, but could more than meet annual demand if it allowed stocks to recover, new research from nef (the new economics foundation) and OCEAN2012 has shown.

The 2012 Fish Dependence report shows if the UK were only to consume stock from its own waters, it would run out of fish on August 21. The country is reliant on stocks of cod and haddock from overseas, including China.

Though dependent on foreign stock as of tomorrow, the UK does better than many of its European counterparts. The fish dependence days of France, Germany and Italy fell on May 21, April 20 and April 21 respectively, while EU citizens on average ran out of fish on July 7 this year.

Restoring fish stocks would allow the UK to be self-sufficient

Overfishing means the UK is getting much less out of its fish stocks than if they were restored and sustainably managed. The report Jobs Lost at Sea published by nef earlier this year estimates the benefits of rebuilding 43 European stocks (out of more than 150) and finds that:

  • Restoring commercial UK fish stocks to their maximum sustainable yield would increase the additional catch in 467,292 tones, 1.6 times the current fish import deficit.
  • If directed only to human food consumption, the additional landings from rebuilding UK stocks could provide for the annual consumption of 23 million Brits and would allow the UK to meet the annual fish demand for the whole year.
  • At current levels of consumption, restoring UK stocks would allow the UK to move from being a net importer to being a net exporter.

Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy needed

Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is a unique opportunity to bring fish back to UK and EU seas. nef and OCEAN2012 call for 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.

Rupert Crilly from New Economics Foundation said:

“The UK is an island nation with access to some of the richest and most productive fishing grounds and has moderate levels of fish consumption compared to Spain and Portugal. It could produce as much as it needs but instead it is a net importer of fish.

“Consumers understand that we import tuna which is virtually non-existent in its in waters; but it will wonder why we need to import cod and haddock from China when our cod and haddock stocks could deliver five and three times more catches with better management.” 

“The next few months are critical to decide the fate of EU fisheries. The UK has been a progressive voice in the reform of the EU’s fisheries management but it will need to be much more ambitious and push others in the same direction if it wants to see the end of overfishing in and by the EU.

Fishing within sustainable levels and adapting fish consumption to available resources is the only way to regain healthy fishing grounds.”

Ian Campbell, OCEAN2012 co-ordinator for the UK


For more information or to arrange an interview please contact

Ross Haig, nef (new economics foundation)

Mob: +44 (0)787 596 7496 E-mail:

Notes to editors:

  1. Fish dependence - 2012 update, The increasing reliance of the EU on fish from elsewhere by nef.
  2. The New Economics Foundation is an independent think tank that aims to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions to economic, environmental and social issues.

  3. OCEAN2012 country-specific fish dependence day briefings from around Europe.
  4. OCEAN2012 is an alliance of organisations dedicated to transforming European Fisheries Policy to stop overfishing, end destructive fishing practices and deliver fair and equitable use of healthy fish stocks. 

    OCEAN2012 was initiated, and is co-ordinated, by the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organisation working to end overfishing in the world´s oceans.

    The steering group of OCEAN2012 consists of the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements, Ecologistas en Acción, The Fisheries Secretariat, nef (new economics foundation), the Pew Environment Group and Seas At Risk.

Fish Consumption per capita for EU countries

Top fish species imported into UK (2010)

Top fish species Exported from UK (2010)

Cod imports

Just over a quarter of all imports of cod in 2010 came from Iceland. The second largest exporter of cod to the UK was China (14 thousand tonnes). Imports from EU member states accounted for 29 per cent of all cod imports into the UK in 2010.

Haddock imports

More than half of all haddock imported into the UK in 2010 came from Iceland (17 thousand tonnes) and Norway (16 thousand tonnes). The next largest was China, which exported 8 thousand tonnes of haddock to the UK in 2010.