This week the newspapers triumphantly announced that we can all once again eat cod without feeling any guilt. Cod had been so overfished in recent years that stocks were dangerously low and it was no longer considered sustainable, that is to say it was not breeding quickly enough to replenish its numbers. Now it seems that, due to stricter quotas in cod fishing in recent years, the cod population has recovered.
So, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and once again eat our fish and chips or fish fingers without any guilt, just like the newspapers this week told us, right?
Well, no not right.
With a little bit of research, I've discovered that amongst the other fish and sealife that is regularly scooped up by fishing vessels along with the cod (this is known as the 'bycatch') there are a number of other creatures including at least one fish species that is endangered.
I'd never heard of the Redfish before, although it is itself a popular food fish in some countries.
This is a remarkable family of fish that has many sub species, including the Golden Redfish (scientific name: Sebastes norvegicus) that can live to an astonishing 75 years of age and inhabits the deep waters of the North Atlantic.
And the future of many Redfish is under threat as they are caught partly as a bycatch casualty of cod and haddock fisheries.
A part of the problem seems to be that the various sub species of Redfish are difficult to identify and are known under a plethora of overlapping common names, leading to confusion in isolating exactly which species are being caught and which are under threat.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN for short) has placed two varieties, Acadian Redfish (S. fasciatus) and Ocean Perch (S. mentella) on its list of threatened species.
Currently categorised as 'threatened', there is only one more step on the classification ladder, that labelled 'critically endangered', before these Redfish become extinct in the wild. So if populations of these fish are not allowed to increase dramatically then this classification might suggest that they could be lost to us altogether.
The 'problem' for these placid fish is that they are slow to reproduce and grow and are also a source of food for other fish. This, together with human intervention, has put the species under pressure.
And it doesn't of course help that many species of fish, including the poor Redfish, are caught in large numbers by trawlers along with the newly 'sustainable' cod.
Although the US recently declared its population of Acadian Redfish (S. fasciatus) as 'fully rebuilt' due to conservation efforts since it was first listed as threatened, some sources say that the Atlantic population of this Redfish has declined a shocking 99% since the 1970s.
So, to sum up, please remember that it is all just a little bit too simplistic for the newspapers and television to tell us to go and eat cod guilt-free, it's not that black and white.
As you tuck into your cod and chips, bear in mind the fate of the Redfish.
Something about this whole 'sustainability' label smells very fishy indeed....
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