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Scottish Fisherman’s Federation labels haddock sustainability rating 'vandalism'

By Louis Gore-Langton , 20-Mar-2017
Last updated on 21-Mar-2017 at 11:55 GMT2017-03-21T11:55:00Z

Is Haddock off the menu after being labelled 'one to avoid'? iStock©
Is Haddock off the menu after being labelled 'one to avoid'? iStock©

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has downgraded Scottish haddock in response to shortages in the North Sea, prompting fury from fisheries who say the MCS’ actions are unscientific and amount to vandalism.

Stocks of one of the UK’s ‘big five’ species of fish, haddock, fell to a level deemed unacceptable by conservational standards in 2016.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) grades fish on a five-point scale according to scarcity and catchment area. Two Scottish fisheries were downgraded from their ‘Grade 2: fish to eat’ ratings to ‘Grade 4: should not be considered sustainable and the fish is likely to have significant environmental issues associated with its production’. A third was dropped to ‘Grade 3: Eat only occasionally’.

The MCS uses findings produced by the International Council of Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which in November last year reported fishing of Haddock in the North Sea and Western Scotland must be reduced by 47% from the previous year to still be considered sustainable.

'They aren't scientists' 

The Scottish Fisherman’s Federation (SFF) has lashed out at what it called the MCS’ false and misleading comments.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of SFF told FoodNavigator:

“We are really disappointed with this. From the top there is a defect in the logic of these guides and it’s a perversity because as a fish stock the North Sea haddock is a wonderful example for which good science is available.

“The consumer may now say well I’m not going to buy that and the retailer no longer stocks it or throws it away after it's already been sustainably caught and then the lights go out in coastal fishing communities. This could actually have an adverse effect on an industry which is doing its damnedest to really be sustainable. We are seriously unhappy.

“The MCS’ reasoning sounds plausible but it doesn’t bear any logical explanation. Several years ago they did the same thing with mackerel and few years before that they did it with monk fish. They aren’t scientists. It's light work advocacy thinly disguised as science, and this is the equivalent of irresponsible vandalism.

“They should apologise and retract this because it could do a lot of damage to communities.”

Armstrong said that consumers should ignore the MCS’ labelling from now on and heed only the advice of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which grants a single blue label to what it deems sustainable fish and should be considered the ‘gold standard’ he added.

MSC reaction

Sarah Lahert, public relations manager at MSC told us:

“The Scottish North Sea haddock fishery is still MSC certified due to the strong management they have in place to deal with changing stocks. 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 a media storm following the MCS' decision, a statement was released by the charity's press office reassuring customers that there will be no shortage of Haddock available in the UK and that biomass is expected to increase throughout 2017, replenishing stock levels. 

"Contrary to some suggestions, consumers should not expect to see a shortage of haddock in shops.

"A new assessment will be undertaken later this year, when new ICES advice becomes available, and if the health of the fishery has improved as expected, this will be reflected in MCS ratings."