Trawl-caught cuttlefish on ‘fish to avoid’ list over sustainability concerns

Diners have been urged to avoid eating cuttlefish caught by trawlers in the English Channel over fears the catch is unsustainable.

There has been a dramatic increase in catches of the highly-intelligent molluscs over the last decade fuelled by a rise in prices, with landings in the UK in 2018 worth £14.9 million, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said.

But that increase, coupled with reports identifying rapid declines in populations in the English Channel, has led the marine charity to put cuttlefish trawl caught in the area on its red “fish to avoid” list.

The warning comes on the MCS’s latest Good Fish Guide which rates fish stocks from green, showing consumers they are the most sustainable, best choice, through amber to red, which shoppers and diners are urged to avoid.

Most of the cuttlefish caught in the English Channel are exported to other countries in Europe, but the MCS said there was a growing interest in the seafood in the UK because it tastes similar to squid.

It could start to appear more on local restaurant menus in the near future.

Cuttlefish have big brains that allow them to learn and remember, with recent evidence they will eat less in the day if their favourite meal is available in the evening, and can change colour to blend in with their surroundings.

The fishery for cuttlefish has no limits on the catch, no minimum size they can be caught at and no plans in place for sustainable management, the charity said.

And it warned that the vast majority are being caught have not had a chance to come inshore to breed, while the trawls used damage seabed habitats and other wildlife.

Charlotte Coombes, Good Fish Guide manager: “Between 2008 and 2017, catches of cuttlefish more than doubled.

“Additionally, numbers of cuttlefish reported in 2017 could be the lowest on record.

“The dramatic increase in catches, alongside several reports identifying a rapid decline in cuttlefish populations in the English Channel, has led to a red rating in the update to the Good Fish Guide.”

And she said: “MCS urgently wants to see management keeping up with the growth of this fishery to protect cuttlefish during their spawning season, and to ensure the population can stay healthy from one year to the next.”

Cuttlefish caught inshore in pots and traps can make for a more sustainable fishery, which the MCS does not rate as a fish to avoid but people are recommended to seek alternatives where possible.

There is better news for other stocks, including brown crab caught in pots known as creels around Shetland which has benefited from a reduction in fishing pressure and tighter rules and is now green rated by the MCS.

Atlantic wolffish from Iceland has moved off “fish to avoid” and is now amber rated.

But non-certified pole and line-caught skipjack tuna from the Indian Ocean has moved off the best choice green rated list and is now amber rated.

And Queen scallops from the Isle of Man are now red rated, and all populations caught around the Isle of Man are “fish to avoid”, the MCS said.