But, in a new initiative, led by supermarket Waitrose, which has over 100 outlets in the south of England, freshly caught New Zealand species can be in the shops in the time it takes to drive a lorry load of North Sea fish from Fraserburgh in Scotland to London. Okay, nearly.
Of all the new varieties of fish, the sweet and dense-textured orange roughy is the most prized. It is white-fleshed (the skin is orange) and silky smooth. It has been described as the fillet steak of the sea, not only because of the cost, up to pounds 8 per lb, but because of its blandness; they say it's a fish which can be enjoyed by people who don't like fish. It is to a gutsy fish like cod what fillet steak is to a juicy, fibrous rump steak.
The truly remarkable thing about orange roughy is that it is being caught 6,000ft below the surface of the ocean. This has never been feasible until now, and hi-tech fishing techniques trouble ecologists. Waitrose says it has satisfied itself that the New Zealanders monitor fishing rigidly in order to sustain these new resources.
How the new range improves our choice remains to be seen. Chiswick fishmonger Philip Diamond sells them from time to time, but doesn't think that the British market will stand the inevitable higher prices. But Mr Diamond is open-minded. If consistent quality and availability is there, who can tell? These are not gimmicks like ostrich, alligator and kangaroo steaks, but first-class fish.
Here are seven of the new varieties: the first four are air-freighted fresh, the others are frozen.
Tarakihi: also known as ocean bream and silver bream. A rich, quite oily, juicy, firm fish, for cooking whole. Ideal for shallow-frying.
Trevally: oily fish, a cross between tuna and mackerel. Can be baked or grilled. Suits strong-flavoured sauces or curry, or marinating. Makes a good gravad lax (see recipe).
Deep-sea Dory: similar to our own John Dory, though ours are often small. These come in at around 11kg each. Dense flesh, rather like Dover sole. Good for grilling.
Snapper: also known as red sea bream. Medium texture, meaty, white flesh. Versatile fish, suitable for pan-frying, grilling, baking, steaming.
Orange roughy: the cream of the new fish, pearly white and dense. Quite high in oil content.
Ling: dense, white flesh, holds its shape in cooking. Low oil content, not dissimilar to orange roughy.
Hoki: flaky, white fish, like cod. Quick to cook. Lends itself to being fried in breadcrumbs or deep-fried in batter.