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red gurnard
Red gurnard (Aspitrigla cuculus)              
Red Mullet
Red mullet (Mullus surmuletus)
Flounder (Platichthys flesus)
Grey gurnard
Grey gurnard (Eutrigla gurnardus)
Pouting (bib) (Trisopterus luscus)            
John Dory
John Dory (Zeus faber)
Dab (Limanda limanda)                               
Tub gurnard
Tub gurnard (Trigla lucerna)
Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)
Squid (Lolligo forbesi, L. vulgaris and Todarodes sagittatus)
Velvet Swimming crab
Velvet swimming crab (Necora puber)
Green crab
Green crab (Carcinus maenas)
Chinese mitten
Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis)
Spider crab
Spider crab   (Maja brachydactyla)
razor clam
Razor clam (Ensis spp.)
Winkle (Littorina littorea)
Image courtesy of  Claude Nozeres


Under-utilised species

A bite-sized guide to choosing sustainable fish

When fishermen catch fish they can't sell, they have to throw them back - often dead - into the sea. This is called discarding. We want to reduce this wasteful practice by encouraging people to try lesser-known species. But which should they choose?

As a first step toward deciding which species to promote, Cefas considered:

  • Which species are "under-utilised"
  • How sensitive they are to over-fishing
  • Which species consumers could be encouraged to try

Which species are under-utilised?

Some species are regulated to prevent over-fishing: fishermen are set quotas, meaning they can legally bring only a fixed amount back to shore. Under-utilised species are ones that fishermen don't catch their full quota of; or they catch them but then discard the fish because no one wants to buy them.

Using quota and discard information, expert advice and local knowledge we chose around 50 under-utilised species to study.

How sensitive are they to over-fishing?

If we encourage fishermen to target a new species we risk damaging the population. We developed a system, the Relative Life History Sensitivity Analysis, to study the risk. It uses biological information like growth and breeding strategies to see how increased fishing pressure might damage each species. We then ranked the species by how tolerant they are to being over-fished.

Which species could consumers be encouraged to try?

The species that are most under-utilised AND most tolerant of over-fishing are the best ones for consumers to consider choosing. The following species came top:


Red gurnard  Aspitrigla cuculus
Red mullet Mullus surmuletus
Flounder   Platichthys flesus
Grey gurnard Eutrigla gurnardus
Pouting (bib)   Trisopterus luscus
John Dory Zeus faber
Dab  Limanda limanda
Tub gurnard  Trigla lucerna






Velvet swimming crab  Necora puber
Green crab   Carcinus maenas
Chinese mitten crab  Eriocheir sinensis
Spider crab   Maja brachydactyla
Brown shrimp   Crangon crangon
Pink shrimp  Pandalus montagui
Northern prawn  Pandalus borealis
Common prawn Palaemon serratus
Queen scallop  Aequipecten opercularis
Mussel  Mytilus edulis
Razor clam Ensis spp.
Manila clam  Tapes philipinnarum
Surf clam Spisula spp.
Carpet shell Ruditapes decussatus and Venerupis senegalensis
Dog cockle Glycimeris glycimeris
Winkle Littorina littorea
Cuttlefish        Sepia officinalis
Squid  Lolligo forbesi, L. vulgaris and Todarodes sagittatus

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The The list of species that could best tolerate greater fishing pressure is based on fisheries around the UK, particularly England. For the fish species, we used our own data plus data from ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) and the Marine Management Organisation. Where reliable data were unavailable for some shellfish species, local expert knowledge on species biology and fisheries characteristics was used.

This Cefas project was commissioned and funded by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).


For more information, read the project report (PDF, 413 KB)

Learn more about Cefas' work to tackle discards

Learn more about Defra's work to tackle discards

Learn about sustainable seafood at the Seafish website

For a buyer's guide to fish, visit the Marine Conservation Society's FishOnline website.

Brown shrimppink shrimp
Brown shrimp   (Crangon crangon)             Pink shrimp (Pandalus montagui

queen scallop    Mussel   
Queen scallop (Aequipecten opercularis)     Mussel (Mytilus edulis)  

northern prawncommon prawn
Northern prawn (Pandalus borealis)           Common prawn (Palaemon serratus)

Manila clamCarpet shell
Manila clam (Tapes philipinnarum)           Carpet shell (Ruditapes decussatus and Venerupis senegalensis)

Dog cockleSurf clam
Dog cockle (Glycimeris glycimeris)            Surf clam (Spisula spp. )

Images courtesy of  © Crown copyright/Defra

© Crown Copyright 2015
Last Modified: 27 April 2014