Fish Fight!

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and friends have been broadcasting the Fish Fight all this week on Channel 4. The aim of this campaign is to raise awareness of problems relating to the ways in which we source and use fish and I for one have been appalled at some of the topics discussed. From the way in which Tesco’s use misleading labelling on their canned tuna to the ways in which fish are caught to the limited awareness of the plethora of types of fish out these; there is a fight going on to sort this out and fish need you!

I love fish. Anyone who knows me will know I will generally have the fish when eating out and fish and chips is my idea of heaven. But we need to use our fishy resources responsibly and Hugh and friends are setting the agenda.

Catching fish

I didn’t realise that what is labelled as ‘dolphin friendly’ tuna can in fact be caught using nets kilometres long which catch everything in their path; sharks, turtles and even dolphins included. This is just plain wrong. So if you do buy tuna, make sure it is line caught and if necessary, check the code on the tin which you can use to find out which boat caught your fish, where from and how.

Closer to home, I also didn’t realise that so much fish is wasted. I understand why the quotas were introduced in order to protect fish stocks but the system is clearly not working; discarding so much fish because it would be illegal to land it is plainly profligate waste. True, if the quotas weren’t there, unscrupulous fishermen could in theory go out fishing for one species and ‘accidentally’ catch more valuable, endangered species, but having said this, the idea that a fishing boat would discard perfectly good cod whilst out fishing for bass, for example, is abhorrent. There’s a good article on this topic in the Guardian explaining the need for a balanced approach; yes, discard needs to be stopped but equally fish stocks do need careful management in order that we can continue to enjoy eating fish at all.

Eating fish

Cod, tuna and salmon apparently dominate the menus here in the UK yet as Hugh points out, there are so many other lovely fish out there. Personally, I love mackerel on the barbecue, usually cooked by me with a nice fennel and chili rub. Dabs are simply divine, like mini plaice or sole. And there are often other oddities on the fishmongers slab which are well worth a go. The key thing here is to go to a good fishmonger. I used to use an amazing shop in Henleaze in Bristol where the fish were brought up from Cornwall and if you didn’t get there early, there would be none left. But if you did get there in time to catch the fishy treasures, then the selection of stunningly fresh fish, of all different species was well worth the trip. And there was a similarly good fishmonger in Abergavenny. Essentially, what was on offer was entirely dependent on what was caught and the knowledgeable fishmonger was on hand to suggest which fish would be suitable for particular recipes and styles of cooking should advice be needed. That’s not to say supermarkets can’t do this (Waitrose and Sainsbury’s for example often have good fish counters) and there is often good seafood to be had on markets up and down the country; you just need to get out, find a good supplier (that’s been my first task whenever I’ve moved to a new area for any length of time) and if in doubt ask. Don’t just settle for the prepackaged easy option.

The waters round the UK have many fish of different types which are currently not really eaten here and by eating them, not only do we relieve pressure on rarer species but we can reduce our shopping bills; sardines and mackeral for instance cost pence as opposed to £5 for a tuna steak yet the bulk of our under appreciated sardines are exported to Spain! And if shellfish is your thing, contact the Environment Agency to get a license and go catch some of the American signal crayfish; help clean up our watercourses and help our local crayfish by eating as many of these invaders as you can!

I particularly loved the mackerel baps being cooked in the programme; I will certainly be asking my local fish and chip shop if these can be put on the menu. With some horseradish sauce, they sound simply divine.

Join in!

There’s loads more info on the website: FishFight.net. Please go and sign up to support the campaign. Also more info on the River Cottage website, on the Channel 4 website, on Facebook and you can follow the campaign on Twitter. If you missed any episodes, you can watch again over on 4OD.

The Environment Agency can be contacted on 01480 483968 regarding catching crayfish. Be sure to speak to them as it is illegal to catch the endangered native white clawed crayfish and any trapping must be licensed and carried out so as to not spread disease amongst native populations.

And finally, lobby your fish and chip shop to get mackeral on the menu; it’s delicious! Instructions are on the fish fight website.