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The practice (largely enforced) of reducing fish catches to levels where breeding fish replace those caught and species aren't under any threat of extinction.
In our waters this is enforced by EU quotas.
In 1960, when records began, there were estimated to be 250,000 tons of adult cod in the North Sea. Today, there are no more than 50,000 tons and there is wide agreement that the minimum level to ensure the very survival of Britain's favorite fish is 70,000 tons. It's not just cod, nor is it only the North Sea. Atlantic salmon, haddock and whiting are heading the same way. Scientists say that unless we are ruthless in having strict fishing quotas now, the chances of there being any fish at all off Europe's coasts in five years time are slim. If proof were needed, people need only look to the Grand Banks fishery off Newfoundland, which supplied much of the US for generations. After massive over-fishing in the 60's and 70's, stocks crashed in the late 80's and, despite a complete ban, the cod and other species have failed to return in sufficient numbers to be worth fishing.
On a worldwide level, too, nearly every major fishery is being exploited to the maximum or is being over-fished. Swordfish, skate, monkfish, Atlantic salmon and tuna are either 'vulnerable', 'endangered' or 'virtually extinct'.
In Britain, some 70% of all the fish we eat comes from six species, but there are more than 100 on sale at any one time. The government suggests we turn to 'exotics' such as megrim, witch and hoki, fish that many people have never heard of. Meanwhile, the industry's great hope is that we overcome our conservatism and buy tilapia, kingclip, kob, panger and the New Zealand red snapper - as these aren't endangered, and are good fish.
There is another problem too: some of the 'new' fish arriving in Britain may be caught close to traditional grounds of desperately poor countries. The EU, for instance, has effectively 'bought' the rights for its giant trawlers to fish off Senegal and other West African countries. This has greatly reduced the stocks for local fishermen in their small boats.
The best solution, perhaps, is to look for fish which have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or ones caught by methods that don't depend on long nets, which trap everything that swims. This will cost more, but that seems a small price to pay for the guarantee that you haven't helped to drive a species to extinction, or ruined someone else's livelihood.