Chefs and restaurateurs who serve line-caught mackerel from areas outside the north east Atlantic should keep the fish on their menus and be proud to do so.
That's the view of Cornish fishmonger Matthew Stevens who supplies a number of restaurants in Cornwall and London following the news that the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has removed mackerel from its Fish to Eat list because of over-fishing.
Stevens, who supplies the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow and J Sheekey and The Wolseley in London among others, told BigHospitality the advice released by the charity earlier today to only eat mackerel occasionally was misleading and had led chefs to believe they can no longer serve it to customers if they want to be considered responsible.
"I've had calls all day from my customers about mackerel," he said. "I've begged them to keep Cornish line-caught mackerel on their menus, because there are no problems with over-fishing here.
"I've seen those big boats come in from the north east Atlantic," said the fishmonger, who has sold fish for 53 years. "They have nets the size of Wembley Stadium and they turn up with a thousand tonnes of mackerel a day. We would never in a million years see that kind of quantity come in to Cornwall. I say to chefs, please keep serving Cornish mackerel, it is sustainable."
Mackerel has become a popular choice on menus in recent years because of its health benefits, flavour and relatively low cost, as well as being sustainable. However the MCS said today that after 'years of being a popular sustainable choice' mackerel should now be a rare treat.
The main problem, it said, was due to over-fishing of the stock and the subsequent suspension of the north east Atlantic stock’s Marine Stewardship Council certification, meaning it is no longer considered a sustainable fishery. However, many feel the advice should be clearer that it refers to stock from a particular ocean.
MCS fisheries officer, Bernadette Clarke said mackerel had moved into Icelandic and Faroese waters, which had meant that both countries had started to catch more than had been agreed. "The total catch is now far in excess of what has been scientifically recommended and previously agreed upon by all participating countries. Negotiations to introduce new catch allowances have so far failed to reach agreement," she said.
“If people want to continue eating mackerel they should ensure they buy it from as sustainable a source as possible. That means fish caught locally using traditional methods - including handlines, ringnets and drift nets - or from suppliers who are signatories to the principles of the Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance."
On the menu
Seafood chefs contacted by BigHospitality today said mackerel was remaining on their menus because they were confident it had come from sustainable sources.
"We will carry on supporting the local fishermen as there are no problems with over-fishing of mackerel in Cornwall," said Stephane Delourme, head chef at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. "The problem is with these big trawlers in the north east Atlantic so I think the MCS should advise by region, not species of fish.
"When it is fresh, mackerel is one of the best fish you can eat, which is why so many restaurants are now using it."
In a statement Nathan Outlaw, chef-owner of Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Rock, said that mackerel's well-publicised health benefits had led it to become popular, but he would not be removing it from menus because he got his from sustainable sources.
He said: "The MCS is undoubtedly worried about the over-fishing of migratory mackerel in Icelandic waters and are right to state their concerns about a fishery which is under threat by industrial catching techniques.
"This is why I have always supported hand-lining as a sustainable fishing option and source my fish from Looe where the mackerel are line caught and largely resident."