24th August 2021
Freshly landed catch for dinner might be hard to beat when you’ve escaped to the sea and headed out for the evening. But how do we know that the seafood we’re enjoying has come from a sustainable sea?
Fishing boats setting off in the early hours, returning in time for kitchen prep. Yellow-wellied ship’s crew battling the elements to bring in the freshly landed produce. It’s hard won and highly valued catch, and often at its best when you’re close to the source.
Credit: Phil Lockley
But with the spotlight on how the mass fishing industry is causing devastating effects on our oceans – from plastic pollution to harming other sea life – how can we be sure that that the fish sizzling up for dinner by the beach comes from a sustainable, local source?
The chances are that if you order cod and chips in Cornwall, it’s not going to be local. “Swapping your cod for hake or pollock can be the first step to making a more sustainable choice,” explains Marine Conservation Biologist Matt Slater.
Slater now runs the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide – an initiative that encourages people to make sustainable seafood choices. Its website rates the 60-plus species landed in Cornish harbours from 1 to 5 (1 being the most sustainable, 5 being the least, and everything from 1-3 being recommended).
Taking your pick from the recommended list means eating seafood with a healthy population, that’s well looked after by the local fishing industry and is caught with little impact on the environment, no dredging or accidental by-catch.
Slater is quick to highlight that much of Cornwall’s fishing industry is small scale and sustainable. He also emphasises the need for us all to be more adventurous and to try something different when we buy or order seafood, avoiding imported fish from less sustainable sources.
Credit: Phil Lockley
“Historically, much of Cornwall’s seafood was exported to the continent, while much of what we buy in supermarkets is imported,” explains fisheries scientist and line fisherman Al Kingston. “But gradually we’re working to close the loop between those catching it and those eating it.”
We can all help close that loop, which means getting our hands on some the freshest and highest quality seafood available, in some cases straight from the fishing community landing their catch in Cornish harbours.
Direct from the source
Joe Emmet has been fishing since he was a child, and uses sustainable potting and hand-lining methods to land brown crab, spider crab, lobster, pollock and mackerel, from his small boat moored on the North Cornish coast in Newquay.
Credit: Abby Crosby
“We’re truly passionate about sustainability, running our family business, Newquay Fish, as close to zero waste as possible, as well as trying to get people to try species that are in season and local to them,” explains Emmet. He’s just one member of the fishing community listed on the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide, alongside others from Sennen to Padstow.
While many of us have seen documentaries slating the fishing industry and persuading us to avoid seafood for the good of the planet, Kingston is quick to reiterate that “Cornwall’s fishing industry is considered much lower impact than in many parts of the globe, and for a long time it’s been home to a vibrant shore fleet of day boats, whose impact is much less than that of the commercial vessels”.
Al has spent 20 years looking at how fishing can affect protected and sensitive species, from seabirds to sharks, and witnessed a huge shift towards better fishing practices, with Cornwall leading the.
In balance with the wildlife
Take hake, since the 90s, when hake was in massive decline, a recovery effort has seen stocks return to safe levels across northern Europe. The majority of hake landed to Cornish ports is caught using gill nets, and all vessels over 12m long use pingers that scare dolphins and other cetaceans away from the nets.
Fishing boats are now helping sole and Dover sole in a similar way. So, what else should we be eating that lands in abundance on Cornish shores?
“Megrim has just been rebranded as Cornish Sole”, says Slater, “and is a delicious alternative that’s becoming more popular.” Other sustainable choices we can opt for range from rope-caught mussels farmed in St Austell Bay and the Camel Estuary (think steaming pot of moules marinière), to line-caught mackerel (perfect thrown on a beach barbecue).
Cornish sardines are landed in huge numbers by sustainable ring-net fisheries and a small fleet of only 15 boats. Mega shoals are found off our shores from July to January, attracting other marine life too, from dolphins to humpback whales.
“There are many understated local species that are being used more now – namely turbot, gurnard and spider crab,” says Al Kingston. “Spider crab is delicious – it’s just a bit of a faff to eat. But people need to embrace and enjoy the process of eating seafood – not just expect it served up ready to eat in batter, with no thought to its provenance.”
The Wheelhouse Crab and Oyster Bar in Falmouth thrives on the authentic seafood experience, serving up platters of shellfish with bibs and finger bowls. Its success proving that we just need to get stuck in when it comes to crab, crawfish and oysters. It’s all part of the real-deal seafood experience.
And if you’re not prepared to get a bit messy, then seek out the eateries where they serve local seafood dressed up as easy-to-eat dishes, such as at the Verdant Seafood Bar down the road from the Wheelhouse in Falmouth, and Catch Seafood Bar & Grill in Mawgan Porth, on Cornwall’s north coast.
Wherever you eat out, just ask the right questions: how was it caught and where was it caught?
Credit: Matt Slater
So, before a trip to the supermarket or the nearest chippy for dinner, checkout the list of places to buy local Cornish seafood – from fishmongers and fisherfolk, to restaurants and wholesalers, and look out for the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide recommended logo on packaging and menus.
Find out more on cornwallgoodseafoodguide.org.uk.