The global spread of COVID-19 has triggered widespread economic chaos. Inshore fisheries appear to be at the front of it.
The order to shut restaurants and the closing of European borders have thrown Scottish fisheries into serious turmoil. Within days many small scale inshore boats were tied up in harbour. The spring has already been a brutal one with near persistent storms, and the collapse of export markets has added huge pressure. A few days later, many shellfish processors and vendors started closing up shop too.
Meanwhile, as has become an all too familiar sight on social media and in the news, communities began to panic buy food from mainstream supermarkets. Our precarious food system has suddenly come under massive strain and, whilst it seems like this is just a short term problem, it is momentarily struggling to keep up with demand.
The fact that many fishermen cannot find a market for their seafood whilst simultaneously communities cannot access adequate food supplies showcases an issue that has been known in the fishing industry for a long time – we export most of what we catch and we import most of what we eat.
But it does not have to be that way. In this time of crisis, and subject to Government guidance, some fishermen around our coasts are turning to social media and using delivery services to help keep themselves afloat and provide locally caught seafood to their communities. Businesses that have sought to shorten the supply chain are now keeping seafood on dinner plates at home. Seafood Scotland is working to promote the Scottish seafood sector, and Seafish has recently launched its Fish Is The Dish and ‘Sea For Yourself’ campaign to highlight the seafood that we have on our own doorstep.
Fishing and eating local has always been something we have supported. So here is our contribution to help people do that.
Over the coming months, we are going to run through some of Scotland’s seafood offering, illustrate where they are caught, where they are landed and attempt to help you figure out what exactly is local sustainable seafood.
Things are going to change quickly here, but we will try to keep things updated as best we can. We will use the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide ratings to inform sustainability – in the past we have not always agreed with what they conclude, but it’s a good yardstick. We will use 2018 fisheries data because that’s about as recent as we can access just now.
We hope this is interesting and might help. If you have any suggestions for things we can add or change get in touch at crew (at) openseas.org.uk
Let’s start with one of our favourites, Saithe, otherwise known as Coley. Saithe is a gadoid, in the same family as cod, but it’s generally smaller, less meaty and a bit bonier. Because of this it’s never been as popular but don’t let that put you off; it’s great, especially when fresh.
Most saithe is caught by the demersal trawl fleet, often the same boats catching your cod or haddock. We’re just coming out of the breeding time so aim for bigger fish – minimum size is 35cm, but anything above 60cm is mature so had chance to spawn.
Despite there being some concerns about trawling causing damage to the seafloor and other species being accidentally bycaught and discarded in this fishery, all the saithe fisheries around Scotland are rated green or green/amber by the Good Fish Guide
Here’s where they’re caught and where they are landed. There is a concentration of landings to the big ports of Peterhead, Lerwick and Kinlochbervie but Scrabster, Ullapool and Mallaig all have several tonnes worth of fish landing there each year. The fishing grounds are concentrated in the north North Sea and along the ‘Hebridean Shelf’, a steep underwater cliff edge to the North of Lewis.
Nearly a third of Scotland’s fish landings (by value) are mackerel. However, there remain massive issues about where this benefit lands, given the majority of mackerel quota is currently controlled by a few companies, that roughly half of the mackerel caught by Scottish boats is landed directly abroad and that commercial interests have resisted attempts to encourage them to land more in Scotland. Hopefully this will not continue through the COVID-19 crisis.
They are delicious, and whether you eat them fresh, smoked or even as sushi, they are extremely good for you. In fact, Scottish dietary guidelines say you should be aiming for one portion of oily fish (like mackerel or herring) each week.
We haven’t mapped the landings to foreign ports (although you can view the overall Scottish mackerel landings by value from 2015 here) but below you can see that, whilst the main ports dominate the landings – 56,000 tonnes to Peterhead, 14,000 tonnes to Lerwick – each year a couple of tonnes land to Scrabster, Eyemouth, Ullapool, some of the small port towns on the north Aberdeenshire coast like Portsoy and Rosehearty, even to Pittenweem on the Fife coast. This happens especially during the summer when shoals of mackerel head in to the coasts. Much of this has typically been used for baiting creels (shellfish pots) for crabs, lobsters and langoustine.
The Good Fish Guide has it rated green and green/amber throughout our seas – and, though there are some issues to do with overfishing in the big pelagic fishery, hand-lining is all green rated.
Mapped data courtesy of MMO and made available under OGL. Catch data – 2018 UK Vessel Landings per ICES rectangle. Landings data – 2018 UK Vessel Landings to Scottish Ports. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-sea-fisheries-annual-statistics-report-2018.
Fish images above courtesy of illustrations from The Natural History of British Fishes (1802) by Edward Donovan (1768-1837), digitally enhanced by rawpixel.com and adapted by Open Seas