Fish and chips: why Britain’s favourite meal is harming endangered sea creatures like whales and dolphins

Brits’ love of fish and chips is harming at-risk marine species, such as whales, dolphins and sharks.

Fish and chips could soon be off the menu in Britain - because our love of seafood is killing off dozens of species, according to new research.

Conservationists want the Government to help save the planet - by stopping us eating so much seafood.

And our demand for whitefish, such as haddock and cod, is affecting at-risk species, such as whales, dolphins and sharks.

Why may fish and chips be taken off the menu?

WWF’s report - titled Risky Seafood Business delved into an investigation to see how much fish the UK consumes. It also investigated the supply chains of 33 of the most popular seafood items to determine the risk each poses regarding production and consumption.

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The WWF claims a total of 887,000 tonnes of seafood was eaten by people in 2019 - which is the equivalent of 5.2 billion portions of fish and chips.

Over 80% of these portions are fished or farmed outside UK waters.

The report said that over 250 endangered, threatened and protected species - such as whales, dolphins and sharks - have been impacted by fisheries supplying to UK markets.

In the report, mussels, sardines and herring were found to be of relatively low risk, but swordfish, tuna and squid were deemed to be of high risk.

The WWF report said threatened and endangered species like whales were being affected by Brits’ desire for fish and chips. Credit: OLIVIER MORIN/AFP via Getty Images

What does the WWF want to happen? 

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WWF is urging the government to address the problem and to take action to ensure all seafood consumed and processed in the UK derives from a sustainable source by 2030.

Kate Norgrove, executive director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, called for an urgent effort to strengthen regulation.

She said: “The ocean is the blue heart of our planet and we ignore its health at our peril. Protecting this precious resource should be the top priority of every single fishery around the world, yet for too long unsustainable practices have gone unchecked, draining the ocean of life.

“Moves to strengthen certification for sustainable seafood across the supply chain are a vital first step but they are not an endpoint.

“Along with efforts from retailers to improve transparency across global seafood supply chains, establishing core environmental standards for all food sold in the UK - including seafood - would have a transformative impact. We urge the UK government to play its part and take that step.”

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How can the UK get seafood from a more sustainable source? 

In the report, retailers were urged to adopt the Seascape approach, putting the health of the ocean’s ecosystem at the heart of their sourcing policies to help improve fisheries management. This will also offer more diverse choices to customers.

Seafood carrying a lower environmental and social impact could offer a relatively sustainable course of protein, and could, on estimate, increase global production by 36-74 % by 2050.

This will be essential if seafood consumption increases in line with national dietary recommendations.

The Marine Conservation Society says one way to eat sustainably would be to avoid red-rated fish.

On its website, it said: “Our main advice has been and remains that if you do eat fish you should avoid those we call red rated. Red rated indicates that the fish are from the most unsustainable fisheries or farming systems.

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A few supporters of the conservationist body WWF, some of them disguised in fishes, stage a protest against overfishing holding placards reading "Stop Bankrupting our Oceans" in front of the European Union Council building in Brussels on May 13, 2013

“We recommend avoiding these fish and only eating those we call green rated. Green rated indicates the most sustainably caught or farmed fish. This way you eat those which aren’t under threat.”

Some seafood on the red list includes some brown crab and lobster, monkfish from the North Sea, and there are mixed ratings for Celtic Sea haddock, cod and whiting.

The latest Good Fish Guide assessed 656 options for species and the areas where they are caught, with 148 now on the best choice, or green list, but 161 red-rated as seafood to avoid.