Catherine Fellows looks at the ﬁsh we eat and where they come from.
Fish has always been an important part of the Scottish diet — hardly surprising when you consider the miles of coastline and the umpteen rivers and lochs. But things have changed a great deal since the days when herring leapt out of the sea in shoals
In fact. increased
efﬁciency in ﬁshing and a growing number of mouths clamouring for ﬁsh suppers led to such serious depletions in ﬁsh stocks that for several years. in the late 70s. herring ﬁshing was banned altogether. That versatile little ﬁsh has successfully re-established itself in Scottish waters. but temporary absence has cost it its place as a staple of the Scottish table.
As for oysters. the vast majority on sale today are farmed. ln Loch Fyne. for example. which has established a worldwide reputation for its seafood
thanks to the purity of its water. thumb-
; from Channel Island nurseries.
nail-sized baby oysters are bought in
— are still wild. though there are
All the crustacea we eat — our prawns. ; langoustines. crabs. lobsters and so on
currently attempts to breed lobsters for release to build up existing stocks.
These latter are not good candidates for captivity because they eat each other. '
But other shellﬁsh. particularly scallops
and mussels. are farmed in increasing numbers. You can spot a farmed mussel 3 because it will be free of barnacles.
with a thinner. bluer shell reflecting its . hassle-free life spent dangling on a rope instead of battling on the rocks.
7 farm industry is that producing salmon. '; Annual output is currently around 50,000 tonnes and accounts for 99 per
By far the largest sector of the ﬁsh
cent ofthe British market. On the positive side. salmon farming has made the ﬁsh cheaper and more available. and. more importantly. brought jobs to rural communities. ()n the negative side. as Friends of the Earth (Scotland) have pointed out. lack of effective regulation ofthe indUstry has led to unsustainable practice: there has been overstocking. irresponsible use of chemical pesticides and antibiotics. as well as culling of predators such as sea birds and seals. Damage to fragile coastal eco-systems is not only to be bemoaned from an environmental perspective: ironically. it jeopardises the very activity that has caused it. because salmon are such susceptible
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There is also debate as to the quality of farmed salmon. Some chefs maintain that it can‘t touch the flavour ofthe wild ﬁsh. others will challenge you to tell the difference. Smokers tend to welcome farmed salmon because they are more fatty — fat which helps the smoked flavour distribute itself — and because. not having been in a tussle with an angler. they are in perfect condition. On the fatty front. many farmers are now responding to public criticism and giving their ﬁsh less fattening food and more exercise.
The crisis currently facing the sea- ﬁshing industry is well publicised. The situation is particularly grave for smaller. traditional ﬁshing communities on the East Coast and the islands. many of which are totally reliant on ﬁsh income. There are simply too many boats chasing too few ﬁsh. and the absurdity of the EC quota policy must be rubbing salt into the wounds of the men who are having to face their own redundancy. Only with a few pelagic or surface-swimmers such as mackerel and herring, who tend to travel in large shoals. is it possible to be really selective. With the majority, the demersals or seabed swimmers. you don‘t know what you have dragged up in your net until it reaches the surface. Cod. haddock and whiting. for example. tend to swim together. The only way of landing just the species and quantity of ﬁsh allotted to you is to chuck all the rest overboard — dead. The authorities are well aware of this ‘serious ﬂaw‘ in their conservation strategy. but as yet. ways round it — new net designs. sonar-detection schemes. for example — are still on the drawing board.
Thankfully. this year is a bumper one for haddock. so quotas for 1993 have been raised and the pain alleviated somewhat. But there are problems even here — after a lean autumn and winter. as soon as the weather is better. there is likely to be a rush to catch, a glut. and a consequent drop in prices. The ﬁshermen will have to catch more to make their money. but the majority operate in such small units that they cannot afford to hide their time.
But there are. if not solutions, ways in which things can be gradually improved. The Sea Fish Industry Authority. the statutory body
responsible for generic marketing. technological research, and generally promoting the interests ofthe industry. recently instigated a campaign to get people to eat a greater variety of ﬁsh. The Scots are obsessed with haddock. and the English are just as bad when it comes to cod. and yet. as is evident when you try a few others. there is nothing intrinsically superior about these species. There are quotas relating to many less popular ﬁsh. but most are way above the numbers currently landed as a bycatch of the big two. The market for such ﬁsh is so small that many of those that are landed are sold off as ﬁsh meal. In the short term. a greater demand for unusual ﬁsh. whilst it might push the price of haddock down. would mean less wastage of existing catches. In the long term. it might alter the complexion of catches, take the pressure off haddock and cod populations. and make fishermen less dependent on these two ﬁsh.
There has been a hit of a catch-22 situation with availability at some varieties of fish - the iishmongers
LAST ORDERS 10.30pm
also meat and vegetarian dishes
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