Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Wild fish are size graded into boxes – fact.

When somebody suggests that a fishmonger is selling farmed bass as wild, because they are all a similar size, the steam starts to shoot from their ears. Unfortunately a number of celeb chefs dish out this advice in their cook books without really offering or justifying their reasons.

I will Take sea bass and sea bream as great examples as these are the most commonly sold farmed whole fish. All wild fish landed at markets such as Newlyn, Plymouth, Peterhead and Fraserburgh go to auction. This allows records to be kept of landings and without these records such management tools as TACs, Quotas and days at sea could never be policed or even justified. Different size fish command different market prices for example a 14 to 16 oz Dover sole, suitable for restaurants, will hold somewhere between 40 and 60% more value than small 10-12oz or large 20oz+. For this reason a boat owner will instruct the market to grade his fish tightly, before auction, to obtain the highest price.

Farmed bass and bream are graded in the following sizes <400grm, 4-600grms and 6-800grms. It is very unusual for larger sizes as maturity is reached thus artificial feed would be wasted on the growing of eggs or milt and not into flesh.

Farmed Gilthead Bream (Top), Wild Line Caught Bass (Below)

Wild bass are graded in the following sizes 6-800grms, 8-1kg, 1-1.5kg and >1.5kg. Wild bream have no size limits and a much lower value than bass so can be found in mixed boxes. So the problem occurs when a box of 6-800grm wild bass can be displayed next to the same sized but farmed fish. Unfortunately, unless you have an experienced eye (although directly next to each other they are very easy to distinguish from each other) you could be sold farmed as wild (A common trick of many restaurants as once cooked the originality of the fish can be easily hidden)

So what is my point? Seeing that row of fish on a slab all of a similar size does not automatically mean they are farmed. Realistically bass is your only concern. Also take what is written in the cook book with a pinch of its own salt. Spend your time in fishmongers, take time to look closely, find a friendly one and he will point out all you need to look for. If he is confident of his product he will be happy to help.

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