Fish fingers are extremely popular – with young and old. Manufacturers help to ensure that it stays that way and strive to present their products as sustainable and healthy. Let’s take a look behind the scenes at fish fingers, gourmet fillets, and co.
Fish fingers: That’s in it
Few people know what’s in a fish stick. There is a list of ingredients that everyone can see. But fish and fish products have long ceased to be about what the fish stick manufacturer mixes with the fish meat. Much more important is what happens before – when catching the fish. Unfortunately, the information from the manufacturers, which can be found on their websites or on the packaging, is not entirely objective.
The packaging usually says “Alaska Pollock”. This is where the inconsistencies begin. Alaska Pollock is not a salmon but a coalfish, a schooling fish of the cod family. It’s just called coalfish because it sounds better than charcoal and sells better. It’s a marketing ploy.
No fish waste in the fish stick
One in five consumers also believes that fish waste is used to make fish fingers and is reassured when they say no, they are fine fillets.
The recycling of “waste” for reasons of sustainability would have been the better answer. Finally, the nose-to-tail principle is also becoming more widespread when it comes to meat, i.e. eating the whole animal and not just the fillet. This is not only more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and animal-friendly, but also healthier since low-fat muscle meat contains the fewest nutrients and vital substances. It’s the same with fish.
(Of course, not eating meat or fish at all is the most sustainable, environmentally and animal-friendly option, but the nose-to-tail principle when it comes to meat and fish consumption is still the lesser evil or a step in the right direction.)
The hunger for pollock is growing rapidly
Alaska Pollock, also known as coalfish, is one of the most popular fish and consequently one of the most caught worldwide. With a 20 percent market share, it is even more popular than herring. Nearly 3.5 million tons of Alaska Pollock were caught in 2015
In 2012, the Germans alone consumed almost 60,000 tons of pollack in the form of fish sticks – and the trend is rising. In 2017, 2.2 billion fish fingers were eaten by German fish stick lovers. This requires 43,800 tons of pollock fillet per year.
80,000 tons of pollock alone for fish sticks
Since humans only eat about half of a fish (only the fillet), you can easily calculate how much the demand for pollack for fish sticks alone has increased in Germany in recent years (to around 80,000 tons).
The consumption of other preparations of the fish is not included here, because the fillet is also bought and prepared directly (for pollock bordelaise, pollock with tomato crust, Thai style, with mustard carrots, gratinated, as meatballs, etc.).
After salmon (17.6 percent) and tuna (16.4 percent), pollock is thus already in third place with a share of 15 percent in the German favorite fish ranking. In total, around 13 – 14 kg of fish is currently eaten per capita and year.
Alaska pollock replaces cod
A few years ago, pollock was still completely unknown. Nobody wanted to eat it. Therefore, it was considered unwanted bycatch and thrown back into the sea.
Because fish fingers used to be made from cod. But it is now the case that the cod stocks have shrunk so much that they are now using charcoal burners instead. So we’ve already almost completely eradicated one species of fish – and are now moving on to the next.
Cod: Stocks down by 90 percent
The cod is the most overfished fish and is considered endangered. Its population has declined by an average of 90 percent in recent decades, e.g. B. in the North Sea. In the early 1990s, its population in Canada had dwindled to just 1 percent, forcing the Canadian government to ban cod fishing altogether. However, the cod could not recover.
Normally, the fish, which is up to 1.5 meters long, becomes sexually mature at the age of 5 to 7 years. Since the 1980s, he has become sexually mature at the age of 2 to 2.5 years. In this way, the endangered fish tries to preserve its species despite overfishing. However, it is known that the offspring of these precocious animals have worse chances of survival than the offspring of older and more mature fish.
In the Baltic Sea: cod stocks collapsed
In the Baltic Sea, too, cod fishing has to be stopped because stocks have collapsed. The herring is also badly affected. The reason: the far too high catch quotas of the EU Fisheries Council and the greed for profit of the fishing industry (and of course the high demand).
The cod is also often caught with so-called bottom trawls due to its way of life close to the ground. These nets don’t just catch the cod. As they literally plow through the sea floor, they injure, kill or capture all the marine life that lives there – whether they are edible for humans or not, or whether they are wanted in the catch or not.
This unwanted so-called by-catch is mostly thrown overboard again – dead, injured, or dying. Bottom trawls are thus one of the most destructive inventions of the fishing industry.
Cod in the Baltic Sea: no recovery in sight
Even the cod – when it still existed – used to be a frequent victim of bycatch. Up to 90 percent of the bycatch of the place and shrimp fishermen could consist of young cabal owls, which were summarily thrown back into the water – also dead or dying.
Organizations such as Greenpeace have been warning of such a development for years and suspect that the cod (as the cod is called in the Baltic Sea) is already so heavily overfished that it will not recover in the Baltic Sea either. One of the reasons is that everything was caught indiscriminately – both mature animals and juvenile fish that had not yet spawned once. So there was no one left who could have provided for enough offspring.
Alaska Pollock: WWF and Greenpeace advise against the consumption
Greenpeace is generally criticized for its restrictive recommendations. According to the environmental organization, you can only eat local carp in Germany with a clear conscience. When it comes to pollocks, Greenpeace advises: stay away!
But even according to the WWF ( World Wide Fund For Nature ), which generally makes less critical recommendations for fish consumption, Alaska pollock can no longer be recommended unconditionally. Depending on its origin, it has a yellow or red color in the WWF fish traffic light and should only be eaten occasionally or not at all. The WWF is one of the largest international environmental protection organizations.
The traffic light is yellow if the fish was caught in the Sea of Okhotsk and red if the fish came from the western Bering Sea because stocks there are overfished.
Alaska Pollock Fishery: Danger to Coral Reefs
In the Sea of Okhotsk, saithe are primarily caught using pelagic otter trawls/trawls, and in the Bering Sea also use the destructive bottom trawls described above. (Pelagic means located offshore in the open water zone and above the bottom zone).
Pelagic trawls are often promoted by fish stick manufacturers as a particularly sustainable fishing method because, at best, they float freely in the water and only touch the bottom in patches compared to bottom trawls. In contrast to the cod, the coalfish lives in large swarms in the open water, i.e. above the bottom zone.
However, the WWF fish guide reads: “In the case of the Alaska pollock fishery, however, bottoming of the nets is known, which can damage sensitive bottom communities such as cold-water coral reefs.”
Nets as big as 5 soccer fields
The pelagic trawls should catch more selectively so that the bycatch should be limited to 1 to 6 percent. But even this small-sounding percentage is ultimately a huge amount of bycatch given the large catches in the Alaska Pollock fishery. You can find the WWF fish guide here.
“The net opening of a pelagic net can be up to 23,000 square meters. That corresponds to about five football pitches. With these dimensions, 12 jumbo jets fit into the throat of the network. A full net can yield up to 500 tons of fish, including huge amounts of bycatch,” reads Greenpeace.
So even if the fish finger manufacturers claim that their Alaska pollock comes from the Sea of Okhotsk and is caught with pelagic nets, that may be the lesser evil, but by no means a reason to call fish fingers a sustainable or recommended food – even then Not when you see the MSC sustainable fisheries seal on the packaging of fish fingers.
Fish, even with the MSC seal, are often not sustainable
MSC stands for Marine Stewardship Council. It is an independent, international non-profit organization that was founded in 1997 by the food industry, namely Unilever (one of the largest fish processors in the world) and the WWF.
Unilever is a multinational company that has launched the brands You May, Knorr, Lätta, Mondamin, Iglo, and many more. Many of these have since been sold to other companies.
The MSC website states that sustainable fishing means keeping enough fish in the sea and protecting marine habitats and other threatened species.
Those fisheries that have now received the MSC seal are responsible for 12 percent of the annual fish catch worldwide. In Germany, the seal even has a market share of 64 percent of wild-caught fish. That sounds very ideal.
Greenpeace, however, explains on its website why fish with the MSC label cannot be eaten in good conscience. Although producers and retailers are anxious to support the label (understandable, since it inspires confidence in consumers and promotes sales), the fish is not particularly sustainable, even with the MSC seal.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish fingers?
A very important argument for consuming fish is often the supply of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
However, fish fingers only contain 160 mg of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA) per 100 g. Since the manufacturers do not specify the omega-3 content of ordinary fish fingers, the value we give comes from the official nutritional value tables.
Fish fingers are enriched with refined fish oil
In order to advertise fish fingers as rich in omega-3, some manufacturers simply put refined fish oil in their fish fingers, e.g. B. Igloo. These then contain 216 mg of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids per 100 g. You could also take fish oil capsules right away – or better yet, algae oil capsules, which provide multiple of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and are of sustainable quality. Because fish only contains omega-3 fatty acids because it eats omega-3-rich algae or small animals that have eaten these algae.
Alaska pollock fillets (“gourmet fillets”) also contain only 143 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per 100 g, because lean muscle meat is used for fillets – and pollock is a lean fish and therefore does not inherently have optimal omega -3 source.