Fish market
© TFoxFoto/Shutterstock

Give a little take a lot

Date posted: 14 March 2018

The UK is a net importer of seafood, but what will happen to the fish market after Brexit? Will we finally take advantage of local, sustainable seafood?

Fish counter
© Sam Stone

If we do get more fish who are we going to sell it to?

Debbie Crockard,
Senior Fisheries Policy Advocate

Brexit is a hot topic, some would say almost boiling, and fisheries is one of the hottest topic areas of all. There are going to be negotiations around access to our national waters, negotiations around who can catch what and how much in those waters and even talks around who will have responsibility for controlling and managing them. However, an area that is discussed far less is “if we do get more fish who are we going to sell it to?”

Currently the UK is a net importer of seafood, we buy in almost twice as much as we export. What I find most interesting about this is the range of countries that we currently import and export from and to. Of the top 15 countries that we import from, 11 are outside of the EU: Iceland and China are the top two exporters to the UK. Of the top 15 countries that we export to, 10 are in the EU: France, the Netherlands and Ireland buying most seafood from us.

This suggests that not only do we have to ensure that negotiations with our soon to be EU neighbours take into account what the fishing industry can catch, but also needs to balance the potential impacts on our biggest export market.


Much of the seafood being sold to our closest neighbours is high quality fresh fish and shellfish that fetches a good price as a premium product. Potential new markets outside of the EU may pay a lower price if the product loses some of that added value by being frozen for shipment.

Additionally the USA, which is currently our 4th largest export market, buys mostly farmed salmon, which is unlikely to change in volume as a result of any increases in access to fishing around the UK.

This offers the UK an opportunity to reflect on these imports and exports and to ask why? Why are we in the UK still, despite many varying campaigns run by Government, retailers and even environmental charities, eating only five main species (cod, haddock, salmon, prawns and tuna)? Why do we not take advantage of local, sustainable seafood available to us here in the UK?


A large part of this is price. Much of the premium catches go to those other nations because they place a higher value on fresh quality seafood. However, there are many low cost, sustainable alternatives, such as mackerel and hake, which are caught here in the UK and could help lower the carbon footprint of our seafood and support sustainable fishing. Another issue is fear. In the UK we aren’t used to preparing seafood in the same way that many other countries are. The idea of shelling a crab instantly puts many people off. Making it easy, teaching how to prepare food that is novel and tasty might be a way to encourage more people to try something different.


Brexit is a complex issue but while all the other negotiations are taking place perhaps now is the time to take more steps in new directions and to try something a little bit different: sustainable seafood caught locally.

This article was written by Debbie Crockard, Senior Fisheries Policy Advocate (MCS), for our winter 2017 membership magazine ‘Marine Conservation’. If you’d like to receive our fantastic quarterly magazine straight to your door, you can become a member from as little as £3.50 per month.

Actions you can take

  1. View the Good Fish Guide online
  2. Download the Good Fish Guide .pdf
  3. Download our award winning 'Good Fish Guide App'.

Did you know?…

41% of North East Atlantic stocks including those around the UK are subject to overfishing

MCS launched the Good Fish Guide in 2001 to help people make good seafood choices

Farmed marine fin fish production in Scotland is estimated to increase by 30% between 2014-2020