e are regularly told to eat more fish – it’s good for us, it’s healthy, and it contains essential oils. All that’s absolutely fine and yes, we should include more of the stuff in our diets, but what about the poor old fish?
We hear so much these days about the depleted stocks of fish in our seas which is caused by our consumption. Some years ago, when the word got out that fish stocks were in danger, we started to buy fish such as hoki because there was plenty to go around, and it was marketed as a good replacement for cod (well, kind of – if you covered it in batter or curried it; I was never quite convinced). But recently I read in an Aussie newspaper that hoki is now on the endangered species list.
So who should we listen to? When I was a kid, rock salmon was a popular fish and chip shop treat in the West Country, but the problem with rock salmon was its misleading alias: we knew it as dog fish or huss.
The dog fish used to plague our live bait when we were fishing off the coast and we often ended up returning more than we kept. You would think that dogfish was not an endangered species, but according to the Marine Conservation Society’s good fish guide (www.mcsuk.org ) they have in the past been over-exploited in the north Atlantic and supplies came close to collapse.
That’s the problem with the less common species: pollack, gurnard, sprats, mullet, flounder and mackerel are all harder fish to sell because we all want to eat prime fish such as cod, bass and salmon.
We know what they taste like and they’re expensive – apart from salmon, the farming of which has become so commercialised that it costs next to nothing and tastes of nothing much either.
But imagine if your local fishmonger stopped serving cod and bass and started selling pollack and grey mullet instead – and when I say selling I don’t mean leaving it unattended on the slab but actually talking it up and telling us how to cook it and what it tastes like.
My theory is that if a lot of that second and third division fish was more expensive, it would be more marketable.
Everyone knows the monkfish story. When I was a kid the fisherman couldn’t give it away, and by the time I’d moved to London to work in hotels it had moved up into the premier league.
The one that always amazes me is Dover sole. Customers just can’t get enough of it, but it’s not, to my knowledge, ever been flagged up as an endangered species and it is regarded as an important and valuable food fish.
We often serve cod’s tongues and fish cheeks and they are popular and important menu items in our fish restaurants, Scott’s and J Sheekey. You may think that we aren’t helping the cause, but in fact we’re using the bits that no one else wants.
For more information about sustainable fish, visit the Marine Conservation Society website. It’s also worth noting that the people at Young’s Seafood are really doing their bit to promote sustainability, making sure that their buyers source their products from properly managed fisheries around the world.