We can celebrate with the farmers if the crops are tall and proud and golden and sympathize if they are flattened by weeks of rain, but how many of us knew that our reliable fish stocks were gone across the sea? North this summer because it was so hot?
It is now well known that before the UK left the EU we were exporting around 80% of our fish and seafood, as was the fact that the Covid-19 lockdown shut down the market for restaurants and hotels overnight, with the result that many fishermen are in trouble. to survive. But there is so much we can do. The top five fish we eat by weight are salmon, tuna (which is not native), shrimp (which are likely to come from the Pacific), haddock, and cod, but the top five fish that are British vessels landed by weight are mackerel at around 150,000 t, herring 75,000 t, Norway lobster, haddock and cod – the latter three at only around 30,000 t (according to UK Sea Fisheries statistics).
People are understandably giddy with food sustainability right now, but we can eat fish in a sustainable way. We can eat tuna sandwiches and Pacific shrimp, but if our fisherman brings back a catch that cannot be sold, it is an absolute disaster. And yet, when was the last time you ate catfish, dogfish or hake? Fishmongers often tell me about customers admiring their beautiful display before saying, “Two haddock fillets, please”. We have a nutrient-dense source of lean protein all around us, which is delicious, easy to cook, and can be thrifty too.
I am also happy to wave the flag of good farmed fish, which can be done in a sustainable way. There are exceptional fish farms in Shetland and the Outer Hebrides where fish are stocked in smaller numbers and subjected to offshore currents. This keeps them clean and makes them swim, thus strengthening their muscles and texture. They are kept with wrasse, which are also native and eat salmon lice.
The Morrisons supermarket chain has also made the bold decision to buy its own fishing boat, but I always encourage anyone shopping there to engage with the staff at the fish counter and dare to try something new. At the other end of the production scale is my hero, Guy Grieve, whose hand-dipped Mull scallops are the pinnacle of quality and sensible fishing practice.
These two examples are at the forefront of the revolution that must take place in the fishing industry, similar to that led by farmers and which has really accelerated recently with new avenues of access to the market. created through direct sales, farm shops and farmers’ markets as well as sophisticated collaboration and cooperation. Local and national governments must play a significant role here too, especially around public procurement and teaching our children to cook.
Problems and solutions are linked but can ultimately be solved: it is up to consumers to research the wide variety of fish available, to fishermen to collaborate and re-market them, and to those involved in large-scale food supply to work. more and to be more sophisticated in their purchasing and sourcing strategies. We would do well to update the cliché that there are a lot more fish in the sea with a lot more variety of fish!