There may be bigger fish to fry, but now small sprat are big on sustainability!

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 6 October 2017

The hardy little fish from the Baltic gets a green Good Fish Guide rating from MCS

© Shutterstock

MCS has improved its rating of sprat from the Baltic Sea by giving it a green rating in the latest version of the charity’s Good Fish Guide published online today. It means they’re at their most sustainable for 20 years.

Sprat from the Baltic are now a ‘Best Choice’, with a rating of 1 meaning they can be consumed guilt free.

Bernadette Clarke, MCS Good Fish Guide Manager says: “We should be eating more oily fish like sprat, not only are they good for our health but sprat from the Baltic is now an environmentally friendly choice too. Sprat are a really nutritious, yet affordable, fish choice and although their appeal seems to have waned in recent years, this positive rating should see them getting back on restaurant menu in their own right.”

But although it’s great news, it also raises some fundamental seafood questions – what exactly are sprat? Have I ever eaten them? Would I know a sprat if saw one?

Sprat (sprattus sprattus) belong to the same family as herrings and sardines. They’re small oily fish which contain omega-3 fatty acids which are known to be good for our heart health. On average sprat don’t mature until they’re about 11cm in length and only grow to about 16cm. A rough belly sets sprat apart from other similar small fish.

Cooked under a hot grill, served with pepper and a squeeze of lemon, you can eat them up, heads and all, without the need for a knife and fork. But you’re more likely to have had them under the catch-all term of ‘whitebait’.

Mature sprat are a more sustainable alternative to traditional mixed whitebait, which isn’t actually a specific species at all and (depending on where you are) can be a mixture of juvenile fish such as herring, sprat and sandeel, hence the longstanding confusion about sprat vs whitebait!

See food writer Mike Warner’s recipe for Devilled sprats on the Good Fish Guide here.

MCS says the improved rating for Baltic sprat has come about because the fishing mortality has dropped to levels that are sustainable in the long term and is the first time fishing pressure has been below this level in over 20 years.

Nowadays, a lot of ‘whitebait’ being sold in the UK is in fact sprat, but it it’s important to check to ensure you’re not still getting a mix of juvenile fish. It’s a popular restaurant starter and one of the only ways that the UK market consumes fish from top to tail.

The latest version of the MCS Good Fish Guide has also seen improved ratings for Irish Sea cod, haddock and plaice and hand-lined pollack from the south west.

North Sea cod and haddock from North Sea, West of Scotland and Skagerrak have also seen improvements due to the latest stock assessments showing increases in biomass.

Haddock from the Irish Sea is now a green rated, ‘Best Choice’ due to an improving spawning stock biomass and declining fishing mortality and hand lined pollack from the south west is another ‘Best Choice’ option – this is great news as it’s a fantastic alternative to the go-to favourites of cod and haddock.

41% of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic and waters around the UK however, are still being overfished and MCS says it’s vital that the public, chefs, retailers and fish buyers keep referring to the Good Fish Guide Fish website, the Pocket Good Fish Guide or the app version on iPhone or android, to ensure they have the most up-to-date sustainable seafood advice.

MCS sustainable seafood work is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Actions you can take

  1. Download the Good Fish Guide App for iPhone
  2. Download the Good Fish Guide App for Android

Did you know?…

Over 3,000 sq km of our seabed is now protected from bottom-towed gear

21.7 million tonnes of wild caught fish are not for people to eat; almost 75% of this is to feed farmed fish

Farmed fish and shellfish production will have to increase by 133% by 2050 to meet projected seafood demand worldwide