Boat leaving Hastings harbour Peter Richardson

Good Fish Guide ratings update: The importance of data

3 minute read

Charlotte Coombes

Charlotte Coombes

5 Oct 2022

Our October update to the Good Fish Guide highlights just how important strong data and regulations are for making seafood ocean-friendly.

Our Good Fish Guide is rigorously reviewed and updated with the latest scientific advice twice a year. We focus on a different set of ratings each time, based on when there is new scientific data available. In our October 2022 update we reviewed several fisheries in the UK.

We’ve been calling for better monitoring of UK fishing for several years now and while progress is happening, it’s too slow. While some fisheries are showing the power of data to achieve sustainability goals, others are suffering from a lack of progress.

Monkfish: data winner

This summer, scientists were able to carry out a new assessment of monkfish in the UK's southwest. The new data is more detailed than before and shows that populations in this area are very healthy. Thanks to this new data, we can be more confident that this fishery is following some sustainable principles. As a result, our Good Fish Guide ratings for black-bellied monkfish in this area have improved.

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There’s more to do though to make sure the methods used to catch monkfish aren’t harming the seabed or catching vulnerable species. Better data about exactly where fishing happens, what seabed habitats are affected, and what other species are caught, is vital.

Gurnard: data losers

Three species of gurnard are caught around the UK – grey, red and yellow. Frustratingly, these three species are often lumped together when catch data is recorded, so there isn’t clear information about how many of each are being caught. Most are probably unintentionally caught as bycatch and discarded at sea, adding to the uncertainty.

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There are some attempts at assessing gurnard populations, but scientists don’t know if numbers of grey and yellow gurnard are healthy. With no real limits on how many can be caught, and no regular population assessments, these cannot be described as sustainable fisheries. It means that red and grey gurnard stay amber rated, and yellow gurnard is a Fish to Avoid.

Cockles: data winners

The cockle fisheries in Poole Harbour, Thames Estuary & Dee Estuary all have good management that can prove that cockle populations are doing well. There's also a lot of controls in place to make sure that not only habitats are protected, but so are the species that depend on cockles for food.

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In some areas, regulators have enough data to work out how many cockles need to be left on the seabed to help support seabirds in the area. If there’s going to be enough left after that, fishermen get an allowance too. All of this means cockles from these areas joined our Best Choice list in October.

John Dory: data loser

Very little is known about this species. Scientists have no indications at all about whether populations are increasing or declining. Fishermen aren’t usually trying to catch it, meaning John Dory aren’t under as much pressure as, for example, scallops. Even so, the lack of data and absence of management measures is concerning and keeps this fish on the amber list.

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King scallop: a mixed bag

Scallop fishing happens all around the UK and there are different approaches to controlling these fisheries in each of the UK's four nations. However, most of them are now producing regular stock assessments to check that populations aren’t being overexploited. The notable exception, at the time of writing, is in Scotland, apart from Shetland, where the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation carries out stock assessments.

There hasn’t been a published stock assessment for Scottish scallop populations since 2016, making it exceedingly difficult to know whether the species is doing well here. On top of that, key management measures are missing, such as a control on how many scallops can be caught, and a guarantee that seabed habitats are protected. With most scallops being caught by dredge - which is very damaging for vulnerable habitats - it leaves these fisheries a long way from sustainable.

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Diving is a far more ocean-friendly way to catch these shellfish, as it has no adverse effects on the seabed. Even so, it’s important to make sure scallops aren’t overexploited, and we can’t do that without stock assessments. It’s frustrating to see that even low-impact fishing methods like diving are affected by the lack of data and management.

Most wild-caught scallop ratings around the UK are amber. If you're buying amber-rated scallops, check the capture method and choose dived from Orkney or west Scotland for the more ocean-friendly option. There is one Best Choice source of wild scallops: dive-caught from Lyme Bay, where data shows that stocks are healthy, fishing is well managed, and seabed habitats are protected.

Farmed scallops are also on the Best Choice list, as they don’t need feeding and are harvested using low-impact methods.

Transparent Seas

These examples show the importance of data to create and support sustainable fishing practices. We’ve been working alongside WWF and RSPB, forming the Future Fisheries Alliance, to campaign for better data to be collected on boats at sea, using Remote Electronic Monitoring with cameras (REM).

More data would allow scientists and governments to make informed decisions about how much seafood to catch, to reduce overfishing and put measures in place to reduce bycatch. In the long-term, we hope this data will be used to improve the sustainability of seafood.

Find out more here.

Scientist graphic REM report

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