The Marine Conservation Society has removed mackerel and gurnard – two key species championed by campaigning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall  – from its Fish to Eat List because of concerns over the sustainability of stocks.

The NGO has downgraded mackerel’s status from ‘fish to eat’ to ‘fish to eat only occasionally’ because of the ongoing dispute between the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes over fishing rights to the jointly fished North East Atlantic mackerel stock. 

The stock had moved into Icelandic and Faroese water and as a result, both countries had begun to fish more mackerel than was previously agreed, said MCS fisheries officer Bernadette Clarke. “The total catch is now far in excess of what has been scientifically recommended and previously agreed upon by all participating countries”.

Gurnard has also been downgraded from the MCS’s ‘fish to eat’ list. “Gurnard, specifically red and grey are now classified by scientists as ‘data-limited stocks’ meaning there is little information available on stock levels and how much is being fished.”

They had traditionally been caught as bycatch and were therefore not subject to commercial fishing restrictions on catch levels, she added. “If the species is to become commercially targeted sustainably, we need to understand the biology of the stocks and manage them appropriately.”

Mackerel and gurnard have both been pushed as affordable, under-utilised fish by chefs in recent years.