Sunday, 2 September 2012

Day Boats and that word 'Sustainable'

Recently I tweeted the following and unsurprisingly it sparked quite a reaction. Generally the responses were from people correcting my error. There was, of course, no error to correct as my statement was 100% correct. 

“@Chelseafish All I keep hearing is "we buy from day boats because it’s sustainable". Well I'm sorry to burst your bubble but that ain't always the case” 

Now before I discuss my statement I would like to make two points very clear so do please read and absorb these as they will clarify my stance on day boat fishing. 

1. I personally believe, after hand collection techniques, the majority of day boats fishing methods are the most ethical forms of fishing undertaken around our coast line. 
2. I personally believe, with the occasional exception, day boat fish are the freshest and most ethically sourced product available on our seafood markets. 

So there we have it, however, neither of these two points I have ever challenged. I continually hear from friends, customers, celebrity chefs and so on that day boat fish are sustainable and in some cases 100% sustainable! Are they really? Who has told you this? Is this just an assumption or can you back this up with fact? So are all day boat fish sustainable irrespective of the species or catch method? 

Allow me to set the scene. 

Off our coast line we have a couple of imaginary lines indicating fishing limits up to 12 nautical miles. Beyond this we have another line at 200 nautical miles from the coast called the exclusive economic zone. Beyond this is almost no man’s land with little to no regulation. Day boats will generally fish within this 12 mile limit due to time restrictions on returning to port or size of the vessel. Additionally boats that spend more time at sea than a day can also fish in certain areas within the 12 mile zone. Beyond the 12 mile zone quotas are bought and sold by EU flagged vessels under the rules of up take of unused quota by home based vessels. Quotas dictate the volume of each species and by catch of certain species a vessel can land over a period of time. Quotas are adjusted yearly with the use of retrospective scientific data, can be increased or decreased, and are not an indication of the sustainability of a stock biomass. In time levels will be found for each species to mirror catch volumes to the maximum sustainable yield – for many species this data is not sufficient to achieve this as yet. So all nice and easy. We know where we should fish, what we are fishing for and how much we are allowed to catch. One snag – Fish don't follow rules!!! 

Let me try and break down this very complex area. For a species biomass to be classed as sustainable it requires statistical data proving its catch volumes do not exceed its maximum sustainable yield. So immediately we have issues. 

1. The level of fishing effort on that stock biomass dictates whether it can sustain healthy levels at that current fishing volumes. Fishing method, therefore, is wholly irrelevant as too many boats fishing one stock biomass that is close too, or exceeding, its maximum sustainable yield is detrimental what ever the technique. 

2. Fish are not willing to stay in open areas or within boundaries. Fish migrate for a number of reasons and some do this across huge distances. 

Point 2 is the key to the argument. Take the stock biomass of Mackerel off Penzance for example. A study clearly showed this stock biomass split into three migrating parties were later to be found: 

A. Throughout the Irish sea, west of Ireland and West of Scotland as far as Shetland 
B. Along the south coast of England and the North Coast of France and in the Bay of Biscay 
C. In the Celtic Sea 

Therefore our line catching mackerel fisherman in Cornwall, whom everybody tells me is sustainable because he catches from a day boat, could as likely be increasing the pressure on the stock that is heavily fished in all the aforementioned migratory areas. It is not his fault that his beloved mackerel are also being targeted by Spanish, French or Scottish pair trawlers, but it is happening and there is nothing he can do about it. Until the complete fishing effort upon a stock is understood no claim by any one part of a fishing fleet on any one part of the migratory root can hail sustainability. The same scenario is relevant to many other migratory species such Cod, Haddock, Hake, Plaice, bass, Pollack, Coley, Sole and so on. 

Love or hate what the MSC do they actually calculate and award fisheries a sustainable status after accessing the complete migratory biomass. Each element of the effort on that biomass needs to submit catch data over a set period to offer any chance of MSC accreditation. This is why there are so few UK accredited fisheries as accreditation is so complex and on many sections of the migratory route the is insufficient data or fleets are unwilling to collate and submit catch data. All other organisations that give sustainable ratings such as the MCS, Mont Aquarium, GoodFish BadFish and Red List use MSC as a basis before giving advice. 

So let me conclude this with some key words 

Freshness (the most important word used when ascertaining fish quality) 
Day boats yield and offer some of the freshest fish available on the market today, fact. 

Line Caught 
Few species are commercially line caught in volumes by day boats. These include Mackerel, Bass and Pollack. To my knowledge there are NO UK line caught red mullet, haddock, flatfish, Dory, cod (in volume) or coley fleets. Do not get hand line or pole and line confused with long –line. 

Day Boat 
Many methods of capture are used by day boats including Line, Pots, Gill net, Trammel nets, Pelagic trawls, Dredge, Purse seine to name the most common. All have some level of by catch and some are substantially more ethical than others. 

In my opinion the best way to describe how your day boat fish is sourced. Day boat fishing methods, in most cases, cause lesser impact on the environment around the target species. 

The most over and incorrectly used term with regards to any fish or fishery. Fishing method or target species is NOT the indication of sustainability. Total fishing pressure on a migratory stock biomass is. 

I think once everybody understands the complexity of this science they might start applying the word sustainable correctly. It is NOT a sales term to put on your blackboard or for a fishmonger or wholesaler to use to make a sale, its a serious subject. If you are unsure do not use it as all you are doing is potentially misleading the diner.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

UK MSC Fisheries

I've just finished collating information for a report on UK MSC fisheries (wetfish only) for a customer and it makes interesting reading. They are determine to use only line caught British MSC accredited fish and will hear no different to this master plan of thiers.

Unfortunately the one snag to this plan is there are a total of only 15 accredited fisheries

1 Dover Sole
1 Coley
1 Cod
1 Haddock
1 Sardine
5 herring
5 Mackerel

One of the mackerel fisheries has an element of their fleet as hand liners (less than 40%) other than that the other 14.5 fisheries are trawled.

Should make for an interesting meeting, wish me luck.

Monday, 2 July 2012

I Bloody Love Brill

I'm always asked 'what is your favourite fish to eat?'. Well that's always a tough one as halibut, wild sea trout and wild gilt head bream are always strong favourites, however, brill always tickles my taste buds. Brill is a fabulous fish to look at, to talk about, to work with, to cook with and of course to eat. My very favourite brill recipe involves cooking with red wine *eye lids raised*. Yes I know its not 'correct' to cook white fish in rouge but a robust red adds colour and richness and really does work.

Fillets of Brill in Red Wine

My good friends at Newlyn Fish Company were kind enough to send me a fantastic 900grm brill, a good size for two, and after much hacking I managed to get two acceptable fillets from the fish (scaled first).

Ingredients (serves 2) Preheat oven at 180c/gas mark 4

2 Fillets of brill
100ml Fish stock
100ml Red Wine
75grm Butter
60grm sliced Shallots
salt and pepper

For this you need a nice big flame-proof dish in which the fillets will not overlap. Grease the dish with butter, lay in the shallots, season the fillets well and lay them on the shallots. You can either have the fillets skinned or have the skin scaled depending on if you are partial to skin or not. Pour in the red wine and fish stock, cover and bring to just below boiling point.

Once the liquid has reached just below boiling point remove from stove and place into the top of the pre heated oven for 6-8 minutes until the brill is just cooked.

Remove the fillets and shallots gently onto warmed plates and return the flame proof dish to the hob and boil the remaining liquid rapidly until reduced by half. Whisk in a few small pieces of diced butter until you have a smooth shiny sauce. Split all evenly and maybe serve with some Jersey royals and seasonal veg.

Ok my presentation is much but taste wise its a beautiful dish and well worth a try.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Wild Mediterranean Prawns - Rosso, Rosa & Mazzancolle

Langoustines aside I believe only two types of wild prawns have passed my Northern Hemisphere lips. These are the good old cooked and peeled North Atlantic prawn and the small Dorset or Cornish shrimp. I was lucky to try a few whilst in Australia, however, even a number on sale there, branded as wild caught, were actually farmed. Farmed prawns vary drastically in flavour and texture. Huge numbers are imported from Asia as farmed frozen products and in reality the cheaper they are the worst they are. The very cheap black tiger prawns are normally tasteless, generally powdery in texture and more often than not have glaze levels equal or just below the net weight of the product; not great value, but they have their place. There are a number of refreshed products one sees on a fishmonger’s slab which mostly derive from Ecuador. These are of a higher quality than the generic farmed frozen product and commonly offer much more flavour. I regularly see these, especially the larger black stripped variety, labelled as wild Madagascan prawns which they certainly are not. In reality wild caught prawns are difficult to come by in the UK as we just don’t have any off our shores. With regards to raw products 'fresh versus frozen or refreshed' be assured there are none. Prawns suffer from black spotting (melanisation) on the shell which occurs almost immediately after the prawn dies so freezing is an essential option. Be aware black spot is harmless and only affects the appearance of the prawns. Over the past few months many customers at Southbank Fish have been asking me to supply them Sicilian Red Prawns. It has taken a while to source a quality product but finally we have achieved that goal. And not only did those famous Red prawns appear, but also some small pink ones and larger stripy versions – all wild, all beautiful and all needed tasting.

Red Prawn Gambero Rosso (Aristaeomorpha foliacea
Pink Prawn Gambero Rosa (Parapenaeus longirostris
Striped Prawn Mazzancolle (Penaeus Kerathurus

All Three species are wild caught in the Mediterranean within F.A.O Fishing Area 37. The Mazzancolle are caught very specifically from F.A.O 37.1 which stretches from Gibraltar to Sicily. This catchment area explains the love of these prawns by the Spanish who know them as El Camaron. The reds and pinks are sourced throughout F.A.O 37.1/37.2/37.3 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Major Fishing Area 37) 

For initial tasting I poached all the prawns in unsalted water. My theory was to try each prawn for its natural taste alone.

Red Prawn Gambero Rosso (Aristaeomorpha foliacea)

As expected the Gambero Rosso were just spectacular. The colour is so striking they seem somewhat unreal. We are all used to a green prawn which when cooked turns a shade of pink but these prawns start a deep red and hardly change colour after cooking. I poached them for just over 1 minute and allowed them to cool naturally and wow a super sweet prawn with or without the shell. The texture was fabulous, the colour was amazing and the taste was historic. Of course these come at a price but when there are so many cheap farmed products around they really stand out in the crowd.

DSTRKT Chefs (Rupert Street, Soho) Sicilian red prawns, truffled polenta, salsa fresca

So where can one currently sample these prawns? Well let me throw a few names of those I supply with Gambero Rosso and one might just take your fancy.

DSTRKT 9 Rupert Street, W1D 6DG London  Website
Aurelia 13-14 Cork Street, Mayfair, London W1S 3NS Website
Menulla 10 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2LT Website
The Table 83 Southwark Street, London, SE1 0HX Website
Duck Soup 41 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PY Website
Chelsea Fishmonger 10 Cale Street, London SW3 3QU Website

Pink Prawn Gambero Rosa (Parapenaeus longirostris)

The small Gambero Rosa were very different to the Rosso. Visually they were not as striking, however they were a very nice looking soft pink in colour. Quality wise, once defrosted, they were not quite as good as the Rosso but this is common with smaller prawns and sizes of green refreshed prawns 60/80 or smaller always suffer with softness and detached heads. As with the Rosso I poached them but this time for just under 1 minute. As a poached product in plain water they were nice but not amazing. A good pinch of salt would certainly aid the flavour. But wait - when fried in a small amount of hot olive oil and eaten shell on everything changed. A wonderful taste with the added crunch of a crisp shell and suddenly a very different conclusion; I could eat these all day. Additionally the Rosso were fabulous fried.

Rosso & Rosa lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil

Striped Prawn Mazzancolle (Penaeus Kerathurus)

I recently had a twitter conversation with a fishmonger about these prawns whom said that a Spanish customer of his was adamant they are the best prawn caught in the Mediterranean. He could well be right. Simply poached for 3 minutes they were stunning. Great looking prawns, meaty, juicy and so flavoursome. Being slightly bigger than the other two prawns they cope with the freezing process slightly better. The product also has a light ice glaze which protects the product when frozen. You may have noticed from the photo of the Rosa that they looked a little dry when raw. This is a result of freezing with no glaze.

So which was the best? A very hard one to be honest as they are all unique. Sitting in a restaurant I would like to have the Rosso placed in front of me. A simple but visually fantastic dish can be produced with these prawns and if a chef is attempting to turn the heads of his diners the Rosso is a no brainer. They also taste amazing so maybe they come out on top, but I can't help but consider the Mazzancolle which were incredible. Sadly the Rosa seem to dry a little as a result of the freezing process.

Southbank Fresh Fish
020 7639 6000

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Talking Fish & Hastings Day Boat Turbot

I’m obsessed with accuracy and attention to detail which on many occasions looses me the chance of a sale or the winning of a restaurant’s contract. You may be thinking this is a strange statement but businesses solely look for the cheapest price and will accept what they are told if they get it. By trade I am not a salesman, I’m a fisheries scientist, and being fact driven is how I have evolved. Some might suggest I am now in the wrong position (as a salesman), however I am meeting more and more chefs and restaurateurs whom really want to learn about their seafood. They are putting a much higher value on the service of factually correct and educational information. No longer is a box with fish delivered at a cheap price enough – the business model has evolved and places are opening up for people like myself with an honest passion and knowledge for fish and seafood. Us as consumers rely upon the menu writer, the front of house/waiting staff or the chef to serve us high quality food coupled with information about the meal itself and its noticeable fish and seafood finds itself at the very top of the agenda.

Recently I have been lucky enough to see some particularly special fish caught by small English South Coast day boats. I do hear this phrase ‘Day Boat’ used nearly as often as ‘Sustainable’ and like the latter it can be used in the wrong context. I guess it is easy to write either of these two statements if it is the information that has been passed on. In reality Day boat fish are commonly stunning in quality and sometimes have a price to match. This week our depot has been receiving fabulous fish out of Hastings with Brill, Plaice and MSC Dovers to name a few. However, the most remarkable fish on show were the Turbot. The nature of a Turbot, being a benthic inhabitant, means it is commonly captured by more aggressive bottom beam trawl methods; additionally they can be captured by mid water pelagic otters trawls. Neither methods are associated with day boats so when such a beast as the 8.2kg fish pictured below arrived the quality, compared to many beamer caught turbot, was so remarkable I had to share it with you all.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

It's Not Just Cod, Its Skrei Cod

I’ve seen some good looking fish in my time but today I saw something very special. Now you may roll your eyes if tell you it was cod “what’s special about that? everyone has seen a cod?”. And how true that is, everyone has seen a cod, especially me, however this is any old cod, this is a Norwegian delicacy cod, this is ‘Skrei’.

What first catches the eye about a Skrei cod is its colour. A very very dark top skin, glistening in the artificial light as the ice melts and runs down the flank. 

Then the striking deep green of the body becomes apparent – just hypnotic. A prod and a poke and suspicions are confirmed; the flesh is as firm as when it left the sea on the end of a Norwegian fisherman’s line. 

As the blocksman removes the fillets for a yield test of the first batch the beautiful large white flaked flesh was exposed. This was turning into fish porn!

So what is Skrei cod?

Well as you may have already gathered it’s a Norwegian line caught cod which is targeted only by small day boat fisheries. Due to the immense volume and the short term migration Skrei is there only for taking between January and March. For me the importance of this product is that it is one of the few Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) accredited species that arrive at market in exceptional condition and competitively priced. Condition is so important to the fisherman that only fish without skin blemishes can be packed and sent as Skrei (Unfortunately since the supermarkets have jumped on the ‘Brand mark’ bandwagon they have forced the price of many of our local sustainably caught species which then usually arrive to the counters in less than perfect condition). Additionally Skrei is supported by the World Wildlife Fund and remember when buying true Skrei will have the tag attached to the forward dorsal fin or the fillet should come with this reference.

There are a few articles on the internet explaining the Skrei phenomenon in more detail with this being probably the best

Skrei, the Norwegian miracle

Additionally if you can lay your hands on a copy of January’s edition of ‘Restaurant’ magazine there is a superb article on page 42.

I couldn't help but put a picture of my hair net on :-)