Hughs Fish Fight

So after a week of intense media interest in the fish and seafood industry following Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall’s Fish fight programmes what  position does that leave the industry in?

Well first let me state that I thought Hugh’s programs were totally shocking even to someone who has been in the fish business for as long as I have. I have always known of the issue of discard and no one is more unhappy because of this practice than a fishmonger, but to actual see all that fantastic fish being thrown away because of such stupidity was a tragedy. In an industry where there is shortages of top quality produce it is a total scandal. To say this is being done in the name of conservation is perverse in the extreme.

I have said for many years that the best way to deal with the issues of conservation is to restrict the amount of days the boats can fish but allow them to land all the fish they have caught. Others in the industry I have spoken to, including fisherman, would tend to agree. Indeed most feel that as well as eliminating discard it would give fishermen more chance to earn a decent living. It may also give us all more consistent availability of some of the popular species and importantly for someone in my position it would probably have the effect of stabilizing pricing. Currently prices can fluctuate by 25% on a daily basis.  

Of course these rules are imposed on us by the great leviathan that is “Europe”. Other fishing nations such as Iceland and Norway who are not members of the EU have much better records in conservation of fish stocks and I genuinely believe that if the UK where left to manage its own fisheries some of these ridiculous rules would not be in place.

I don’t know to be honest what benefit we get from being members of this obese organisation.

I have been heartened to see some emphasis on more underutilized fish species and will be happy to have them in stock to allow the customers to try them for themselves although these are species that have been available for many years without catching the imagination of the public.

I am also pleased to see some of the supermarkets being brought to task over some of their statements regarding fish sustainability and animal welfare. I confess to laughing out loud when watching the guy on the Tuna boat talking about catching sharks, turtles and dolphins being caught in the purse seine net. The guy sttod behind him was wearing a Tesco teeshirt!  Brilliant.

Words such as “sustainable” and “seasonal” sound great but I have been feeling more and more that a bandwagon was gathering pace! I remember going to a food show a few years ago that had a huge organic section. All the produce looked great but by the time I had got to the “organic vodka” I had kind of lost interest. Its similar with this idea of sustainability. Every man and his dog now claims to only sell “sustainable” fish. So where is all this unsustainable fish going and who is selling it?

I am a fishmonger so my livelihood depends on selling fish so I have a vested interested in making sure there is a steady supply of fish for all my customers. I also want to see my business survive for many years and so a sustainable fishery is vital. There are organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council MSC that certify fisheries as sustainable but there are not enough of these fisheries and not enough species certified to keep an industry going.

So we must make sure that we are taking every step to get our fish from the most sustainable sources we can. Using line caught fish from Icelandic and Norwegian fisheries are much better than trawled fish. Firstly it is a much more selective in what they catch and they have no discard issue. Also fish caught from smaller day boats are not only more sustainable but much better quality. Using fish in correct season is also an important way to ensure the species breed successfully. I know this would mean that we couldn’t get some fish at certain times but let’s be honest why do we want to eat plaice or lemonsole during January and February when the are in roe? Its like eating strawberries in December. Why?

The other main way to ensure the future of some species is to farm them. Now I know that fish farming is contentious to some people as seen by Hugh’s visit to the Marine Harvest operation in Scotland but it really is the way forward if done properly. Farmed salmon has been the mainstay of the seafood industry for a long time and it really is an excellent product that I would encourage all my customers to eat regularly. It is high quality, healthy and good value. I accept, as in all types of farming, that there are good farmers and bad farmers but then you have to rely on people like me to ensure that you are getting good produce.

The Salmon we sell is farmed by one farm called Wester Ross <a href=”http://www.wrs.co.uk”>www.wrs.co.uk</a> the oldest independent salmon farm in Scotland and all its fish are produced to RSPCA welfare standards. They use smaller stocking density and feed by hand to ensure that fish are not overfed and become fatty. The feed is produced from offcuts and trimming from the seafood industry and not from wild fish like the feed seen in Hugh’s program. Only 5% of all Salmon farmed are fed using this type of feed. The taste is excellent and the efficiency of the harvesting is amazing.

I would hate to think that one of the net results of this campaign is that consumers stopped eating such an amazing product.

 Any way I have rattled on for long enough now and its late and I am off to bed so I will be seeing  you. Please let me know what you think or ask any questions that you want and I will try my best to answer them.
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