• get the

    latest news

Fish Friers

Increased number of Good Fish Guide ratings for squid – the prawn cocktail of the 21st century

Article Date: 2016-10-19

Squid from Japan gets the green light from Marine Conservation Society whilst diners should treat calamari from other fisheries with caution


Where once the prawn cocktail was a staple of the restaurant starter menu, calamari has now become a diner’s favourite. Baked, fried, popped in a paella, stewed or sautéed, squid has spread its tentacles across the menu of many high street restaurant chains.


Its rise in popularity has led the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) to increase the number of squid ratings in the latest version of its sustainable seafood advice – the Good Fish Guide (


Calamari or squid? Calamari is squid! It’s an Italian word that’s used when referring to fried squid. It also sounds a bit more appealing!


There’s currently little information for squid fisheries - in the North East Atlantic for instance, squid is classified as a non-pressure stock species and so stock assessments haven’t been carried out. Butas more squid is imported and it increases in popularity, MCS says it is responding to rising numbers of queries regarding its sustainability and is now providing additional ratings for some of the more commercial sources.


Squid stocks are thought to be as much affected by environmental pressures as fishing pressure, but fisheries still need to be well managed. Landings of squid worldwide have been increasing in recent years (see graph below*), and MCS says that despite squids’ high growth rates, short lifespan and other favourable fishery characteristics, some precautionary management is needed.

"Japanese flying squid gets a score of a 2 which means it’s on our ‘Fish to Eat’ list’, says Bernadette Clarke, MCS Good Fish Guide Manager. "This is generally due to the highly selective and low impact fishing method known as jigging used in the fishery and the fact that stock assessment has been carried out. There’s also a low vulnerability score for the species, and management measures are applied in the fishery.”



A jig is a type of grappling hook, attached to a line, which is manually or mechanically jerked in the water to snag the fish in its body. Jig fishing usually happens at night with the aid of lures or light attraction and can happen on an industrial scale depending on the number and size of boats and/or number of jigs involved.

"On the other hand we have given both Homboldt or Jumbo squid jigged in the East Central Pacific and Argentine short fin squid, caught by purse seine or by jigging method in waters off Argentina and the Falklands, a 4 which means it’s not as sustainable and should be eaten only very, very occasionally,” says Bernadette Clarke.


"These two species are the most heavily fished squid species in the world and because fisheries occur on the high seas and are accessed by several countries their management is complicated by the occurrence of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing. Squid also plays an important role in oceanic and coastal food webs and the impact of its large scale removal by industrial fishing is unclear.”



Purse Seine

Purse Seine and pelagic trawling for squid use big nets on an industrial scale. The trawls commonly contain small meshes which capture protected species such as sharks, marine mammals and turtles and small sized and juvenile fish species referred to as "trash fish”.


Squid are caught using light attraction from glow in the dark jigs to high wattage surface lights. It’s still not clear why squid are attracted to the lights, but the light pollution from large-scale industrial squid fisheries is such that the glow from a single fishing fleet can apparently be seen from space


MCS says its advice is to choose squid from fisheries using low impact methods like small-scale jigging. "There’s one such fishery in Sennen Cove, Cornwall, where fishermen go out in small punts and fish for squid using jigs, " says Bernadette Clarke. "Fisheries in UK waters tend to be small, seasonal, and non-targeted and squid is generally taken as bycatch in trawl fisheries for nephrops and other demersal whitefish species.”


Mike Lewis, Group Chief Executive of YO! Sushi says there’s been a marked rise in the popularity of squid: "Over the last few years we have seen squid based dishes like our Spicy Pepper Squid and Spicy Seafood Udon becoming increasingly more popular with higher sales. Due to our positive guest feedback and increased sales we are looking to add more sustainable squid based dishes onto our menu in the New Year.”


MCS says there will be more new ratings for squid fisheries published at the beginning of 2017.


Above - The State of World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture (Sofia) 2016 FAO - graph of catch trends for squid


Cod, mackerel and plaice are also subject to ratings changes in MCS’ latest version of the Good Fish Guide.


"We’ve been able to improve the ratings of cod caught in the Celtic Sea and the Kattegat – a strait forming part of the connection between the Baltic and the North Sea. They have both improved from a 5 to a 4 and dropped off our Red List. The stock size in the Celtic Sea is improving but there was still an awful lot of cod fished last year - 4772t in 2015. We’d like to see less taken to allow the stock to recover more substantially.”


Mackerel, from the newly Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance (MINSA) fishery – made up of seven fisheries who had previously worked with MSC - is now back on the MCS Fish to Eat list.


MINSA certification covers more than 99% of all mackerel consumed in the UK either by way of fish directly landed in the UK or fish landed in Europe, processed overseas and then imported (which happens for canned production) and is a good choice from both a healthy and sustainable perspective.


"To ensure the mackerel you buy is as sustainable as possible only source fish caught locally using traditional methods including handlines, ringnets and drift nets or fish from the MINSA fishery which MSC says is well managed and sustainable in accordance with their Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing,” says Bernadette Clarke.


However it’s not such good news for another restaurant and chip shop favourite – plaice, particularly plaice from the Irish Sea or caught by pulse trawl. Efforts to reduce plaice discards haven’t really worked with many still being thrown away because they are either too small, individual catches are over quota or the nets are the wrong size.


"We have re-rated Irish Sea plaice caught by demersal otter trawl from 4 to 5,” says Bernadette Clarke. "Plaice is a vulnerable species and we would suggest consumers try dab and flounder instead, if it’s a flat fish they’re after.”


Currently the best choices for plaice are fish caught in the North Sea or Eastern Channel where the stocks are assessed as healthy and at a record high in the case of the North Sea. However, as with all plaice fisheries, there’s a significant discarding of it and other species. Ask for plaice only taken in trawls using measures to improve the selectivity of the net and fitted with Benthic Release Panels to reduce impact on bottom dwelling species.


MCS says it’s vital that the public, chefs, retailers and fish buyers keep referring to the Good Fish Guide Fish website, the Pocket Good Fish Guide or the app version on iPhone or android, to ensure they have the most up-to-date sustainable seafood advice.

Fish Friers