Brits’ love of fish and chips is endangering food security more than the Second World War, according to new research.
Cod and haddock are largely imported from other countries – widening the gap between what is caught and what is eaten.
Study lead author Luke Harrison, of the University of Essex, England, said: “Seafood represents a critical source of protein and micronutrients to billions of people globally.
“Exacerbated by stock declines caused by fishing, climate change and habitat loss, this growing disconnect far out-scales any previous mismatches between availability and consumption – including those seen during both world wars.”
Fish and chips is often considered the British national dish. The humble meal was considered to be a vital ingredient of the war effort in both the First and Second World Wars.
The British Government safeguarded the supply of fish and potatoes during both world wars to ensure the dish remained a boost to morale. They were among the few foods not to be subject to rationing during either of the world wars.
The parachute regiment even used ‘fish’ and ‘chips’ as codewords during the D-Day landings.
Mr. Harrison said: “We have seen an increasing reliance on seafood imports and a decrease in domestic landings.”
It dates back to the Cod Wars – fishing rights disputes which raged between the UK and Iceland from the 1950s until the 1970s.
Mr. Harrison explained: “Our research highlighted policy changes in the mid-1970s, particularly the introduction of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and the UK joining the European Union, drove a growing mismatch between the seafood produced in the UK and what we ate domestically.”
The first analysis of its kind looked at patterns in seafood production, trade and consumption over the past 120 years.
It showed even if Brits changed their preferences to species more common to local waters, like herring and mackerel, UK seafood production would still be unable to meet domestic demand or the Government’s healthy eating recommendations.
Fish is one of the most traded foods in the world. UK imports were relatively low before the 1970s. It now imports most of the fish it eats and exports most it produces from fisheries and aquaculture.
Demand for large, flaky fish began in the early 1900s when the UK had a thriving distant-water fishery. Few are landed in UK waters today.
But there is an abundance of cheap, nutritious, bony species, particularly mackerel and herring – which are mainly sold to the Netherlands and France.
Co-author Dr. Georg Engelhard, of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, said: “The increasing popularity of tuna, shrimps and prawns highlights how UK consumers have largely not changed their eating habits to reflect changes in local seafood availability over the years.”
Since the mid-1970s, UK domestic landings have more than halved from 869,000 to 349,000 tons in 2020.
The UK public currently eats almost a third less seafood than is recommended by government guidelines.
Even if local species were more popular, all domestic fisheries and aquaculture production would still be around three-quarters below recommended levels without the inclusion of imports.
Senior author Dr. Anna Sturrock, also from Essex’s School of Life Sciences, added: “In the face of climate change, global overfishing and potentially restrictive trade barriers, it is important we promote locally sourced seafood and provide clearer guidance on non-seafood alternatives.”
“Ultimately this will help meet national food security demands as well as health and environmental targets.”
The study, published in the journal Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, follows warnings fish and chips may completely disappear from the menu because of global warming.
Cod and haddock face being wiped out as rising temperatures cause a reduction of oxygen in the oceans. Bigger sea creatures are most vulnerable to climate change.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Saba Fatima and Newsdesk Manager