How to ensure your seafood is squids in and not from the wrong plaice

By Bernadette Clarke, Good Fish Guide Programme Manager, Marine Conservation Society

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.

Landings of squid worldwide have been increasing in recent years (see graph below*) and it is this rise in popularity coupled with enquiries from suppliers and supermarkets that has led us, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), to increase the number of squid ratings in the latest version of our sustainable seafood advice – the Good Fish Guide.

Generally there’s little precise stock information available for squid. Fisheries around the world exhibit considerable variations in annual catch, mainly as a result of large fluctuations in abundance that appear to be environmentally driven with fisheries being affected as much by environmental pressures as fishing. But despite squid’s high growth rates and short lifespan fisheries still need to be well managed.

Squid is fished in a number of ways – it can be taken by a method known as jigging or it may be fished in purse seine or trawl nets. Fishing usually occurs 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.

Fisheries in UK waters tend to be small, seasonal and non-targeted and squid (Loligo forbesi and Loligo vulgaris) is generally taken as bycatch in trawl fisheries for nephrops (langoustine to you and me) and other demersal whitefish species. An example of such a fishery in the UK is the Sennan Cove squid fishery in Cornwall, where fishermen go out in small punts and fish for squid using jigs, a method of fishing similar to that of hand lining.

On the other hand fisheries for Homboldt or Jumbo squid and Argentine short fin squid 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. Our advice is to choose squid from small-scale fisheries or those using low impact and selective methods like jigging where stock status is known and the fishery responsibly managed.

Mike Lewis, Group Executive Chef at YO! Sushi, has also noticed 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 popular. 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.”

We will be publishing more new ratings for squid fisheries at the beginning of 2017.


We’ve also reviewed our ratings for plaice and issued some new advice for this consumer favourite which is subject to high fishing pressure. Stocks around the UK vary. Currently the best choices for plaice are fish caught in the North Sea or Eastern Channel where the stocks are assessed as healthy and fishing is at a sustainable level.

To increase the sustainability of the plaice you serve only order those taken in trawls using measures to improve the selectivity of the net to reduce discarding and avoid eating immature ones, below 30 cm, and during their breeding season January to March. Alternatives to plaice are Lemon sole, dab, flounder and megrim.

In our new ratings we’ve rated plaice caught in ‘pulse trawls’ as fish to avoid. There are approximately 90 trawlers operating in the North Sea employing this method, which uses electrical pulses to shock and immobilise fish. Until there is better regulation and understanding of the ecological impacts of this method MCS recommends avoiding seafood from pulse trawl fisheries.


Good news for mackerel lovers!  This healthy fish from the newly certified Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance (MINSA) fishery – made up of seven fisheries who had previously worked with MSC and which covers more than 99% of all mackerel consumed in the UK – is now back on the Fish to Eat list.

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