In 2004 the important anchovy fishery in the Bay of Biscay – which lies along the western coast of France south to the Spanish border – faced complete collapse and has now been officially closed. The fish population had been struggling since 2002, as overfishing left an insufficient quantity of adult fish to provide eggs.
Stocks in Europe’s other major anchovy fishery – off the Portuguese coast – are also in a critical state and while anchovies are still legally caught here, quotas have been restricted significantly.
Commenting on the present crisis, fisheries officer Sam Wilding of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) – a UK based charity dedicated to protecting seas, shores and wildlife – said ‘There are not many anchovies left in European waters, and we say people should avoid them to give populations a chance to recover’.
In a report on hundreds of types of fish, the marine society has awarded each species a ranking from 1 to 5, after assessing its biology, stock status, management and the impact of the farming or fishing method. Sixty-nine fish have been given a rating of 5, putting them in the most endangered category.
The list does not label entire species unacceptable to eat, but aims to increase awareness of the sustainability of certain fish types, depending on where and how they are caught. ‘It is vital that consumers are given better information to act upon if we are to reduce the tragedy of overfishing,’ Wilding added.
The anchovy is widely used for its unique flavor, and is found in many dishes and condiments that people may not realize. ‘It adds something unique to all sorts of dishes, from salads to meat to other fish and egg dishes, and has done for a long time. Anchovies have been an important part of our diet since Greco-Roman times,’ said UK chef Rowley Leigh.
Rowley says he will not stop ordering anchovies just yet, but added, ‘obviously we have got to be very careful where we get our anchovies from and make sure we get them from unimpeachable sources’.
MCS has produced a pocked-sized version of the list that can be used as a portable reference.