Without radical action our favourite fish will disappear from dinner plates. Ministers should listen to environmentalists, not trawlermen

Top chefs Raymond Blanc and Tom Aikens are joining forces with Greenpeace at Old Billingsgate Market at the end of this month to launch a campaign urging chefs and cookery writers to use sustainable seafood.

Let's hope this is an early sign that 2008 will be the year in which we get to grips with halting the alarming decline in fish stocks.

It's now or never. A staggering 70% of global fish stocks are now either fully fished, over-fished or depleted. Nobody wants to see traditional fish favourites disappear from dinner plates, but unless we do something radical, then this is precisely what will happen.

As it is, familiar species such as cod, skate, monkfish and tuna are now turning up on 'red lists' of fish to avoid because they are endangered. The penny is beginning to drop with chefs, cooks and aware consumers, but government action lags behind.

Last year the highly authoritative International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) reported a slight improvement in the numbers of juvenile cod in the North Sea - but still only to half the long-term average. However, fisheries ministers instantly wanted to relax quotas. This was despite the fact that ICES recommended cutting catches in 2008 to less than 50% of the 2006 figure "to give these young fish the opportunity to grow and reproduce".

The government must stop having its ear bent by diehard trawlermen and listen to environmentalists. They say that what we need in mixed fisheries such as the North Sea is a policy that allows fishermen to keep all that they catch so that no fish caught is discarded, but this must be accompanied by substantial reductions in the time boats spend at sea. 

Such measures could be reinforced by the creation of marine reserves -

expanses of water closed to fishing for a period - to allow fish stocks to regenerate. There is exciting evidence from New Zealand, where marine reserves have been introduced, that stocks start recovering within as little as two to three years.

Big retailers have demonstrated awareness lately by stocking MSC-certified fish. The Fishworks chain offers a model for high-street fishmongers to source and label fish caught by sustainable methods.

Saving fish stocks may be one area where thinking chefs, consumers and retailers can prod the government into action.n

Joanna Blythman is the author

of Bad Food Britain