Sustainable, healthy, cheap, and definitely not overfished! That’s what we’ve been hearing about small, oily mackerel for years. Four varieties of mackerel have been listed as “best choices” on the Seafood Watch eating guide, and a fifth made the “good alternatives” list. Even Mark Bittman and Tom Philpott agreed on the virtues of mackerel over other less sustainable fishes back in 2009.

Please don't eat us!

simonburgess7Please don’t eat us!

But all that popularity hasn’t been so great for the poor little mackerels in the Atlantic. Due to overfishing, they were just knocked off the U.K.’s Marine Conservation Society (MCS) list of best fish to eat. From The Guardian:

There has been an increasingly bitter three-year dispute between Iceland and the EU — mainly the UK — over who has the right to land the once-plentiful fish.

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Conservationists fear stocks could be at risk after Iceland and the Faroe Islands dramatically increased their quotas in recent years. In 2011, 930,000 tonnes of mackerel were fished from the north-east Atlantic, but scientists claim the maximum that should be caught is 542,000 tonnes. …

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A spokesman for the [U.K.] Department for Environment said: “The continued sustainability of mackerel is vitally important and is increasingly threatened by the actions of the Faroe Islands and Iceland. We are extremely concerned that an agreement on fishing rights has not yet been reached. That is why the UK continues to seek a new agreement that is fair to all.”

The mackerels aren’t endangered. Not yet. An international agreement on how to manage mackerel fishing in the future could come together this year. But, as Annalisa Barbieri at The Guardian writes, “Understandably, EU fisherman are pissed off and everyone is confused.”

As little forage fish, mackerel are incredibly important to maintaining a diverse ocean ecosystem, and they don’t bounce back so well: Though mackerel fishing was halted in much of the North Sea many years ago, stocks there still haven’t recovered.

It’s a scary tale for Europe and a cautionary one for the U.S. That list of “best choices” is just a list of soon-to-be “endangered choices” if we keep on like this with the overfishing.