Leading article: Tipping the scales

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The Independent Online

The British are supposed to be no strangers to a fish-and-chip supper. But according to new research, we are finding it ever harder to find the raw materials for the meal. A survey by the British Shops and Stores Association found that consumers put fishmongers at the top of their lists when asked about services "our high streets should have, but lack".

Why fishmongers are now few and far between is not hard to explain. Supermarkets have long put pressure on independent high-street retailers. And while prices may have fallen, this has put paid to the diversity of local traders in many town centres. Greengrocers and butchers also featured prominently on the wish-lists of consumers. But of all these tradespeople, why is it the fishmonger that we would most like to see back?

One explanation is surely nostalgia: the fishmonger was, in many places, the independent retailer that vanished first. Then there is our mentality as islanders. Surrounded by water, we might expect to find fish easily available. Yet the reverse is true.

Health and fashion also play a part. As the benefits of red meat are questioned, fish has become a preferred option. From seaside holidays, here and abroad, we know the variety of fish that exists beyond the supermarket's freezer shelves and plastic wrapping. For years now it has been out of everyday reach.

Recently, however, fishmongers have started to reappear here and there – at farmers' markets and in the most chic parts of town – albeit at prices to match. We hope for a trickle-down effect from these rare sightings: more fish, at a fair price, sustainably caught, on a high street near us.

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