Fishing Lines: The cook was floundering,but I knowmy plaice

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The Independent Online

My parents called me Keith because they didn't want people to abbreviate my name. So what happened? I got called Keithy. Still, being Keithy or Keith (a good Scottish name meaning woodland or forest) hasn't really proved too much of a barrier in life. Might have been different if I had been a slimehead.

This deep-sea fish, for some reason, proved unpopular with even the most ardent piscivore. Even the Japanese were reluctant to tuck into sashimi slimehead. But now, thousands of tonnes are sold each year. The secret? It's now orange roughy.

This week, Marks & Spencer revealed that changing the name of pilchards to Cornish sardines has proved a sales winner. Too many people clearly had memories of tinned mush lurking in tomato sauce.

Plenty of other species are suddenly winning over con-sumers simply because they've got an attractive name. A flatfish called a witch has been renamed Torbay sole. Megrim, another flatfish, has had the marketing boys down and will henceforth be known as Cornish sole.

Years ago, you couldn't sell dogfish, because its sharky features proved a turn-off. But renamed rock salmon, it became a standard dish in chippies.

Even anglers seem to have fallen for the hype. Ruffe, small, spiky, insignificant, freshwater fish, get called pope or tommies. Small bream are skimmers. Many fishermen talk about "tigers" when they've actually been catching perch.

Tench, all too close to "stench", increasingly adopt their Latin name tinca, though in a world where the only Latin most people know is Julius Caesar, I'm now seeing it written as "tinker". How long before chub, in a world that worries about weight, adopt their older name of chavender?

I once sold my local fishmonger a hefty catch of garfish, telling him they were baby swordfish. They didn't make him much money. He made the mistake of cutting off their fierce-looking heads, which revealed that garfish have green bones. Those deep-sea species are the ones that have enjoyed the biggest rebranding. Would you buy rat-tail? Unlikely. But you might fancy a chunk of grenadier. What about Patagonian toothfish? Try a spot of Chilean sea bass, then.

Good news for the marketers, bad news for the fish. Both species are long-lived, reach sexual maturity late in life and don't produce profuse numbers of offspring, unlike cod, whose mature females might lay five million eggs in a season.

Modern fishing methods, increasingly turning to deeper waters because the rest of the seas have been fished out, are wreaking havoc among the toothfish, grenadiers and slimeheads. Before you've even had a chance to try them, they could be close to extinction. And all in the name of marketing.

Many moons ago, I had a row with the head cook at 'The Guardian' because the canteen was selling flounder, a very cheap fish, as more expensive plaice. She insisted it was the latter; I knew from the flesh structure and tiny flecks of black thread that it was a flunky.

"I don't know what you're worrying about anyway," she said when she realised that she was losing the battle. "They're all flatfish anyway." She may soon be right.

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