Anyone for fillet of slimehead? Thought not...

As traditional fish stocks dwindle, retailers and restaurateurs are resorting to lesser-known species – and giving them more tasteful names

Roger Dobson,Susie Mesure
Saturday 17 September 2011 12:29

Fancy a change from overfished cod but can't choose between the Torbay sole and the herb-baked Cornish sardines? Count your blessings, then, that your restaurant didn't give the dishes their real names: witch fish and pilchards.

With some fish stocks reaching dangerously low levels, restaurants and fishmongers are getting inventive and renaming fish that do not sound very appetising. A new study reveals that fish renaming is rife, along with other more worrying trends, such as mislabelling.

More than 200,000 tonnes of farmed salmon has been sold as wild worldwide during the past 12 months, researchers from the University of British Columbia have found. This means that one in six pieces of farmed salmon sold was mislabelled as wild – and priced accordingly – leaving shoppers £1m out of pocket.

The report, to be published in the journal Marine Policy this week, blames distributors, fishmongers and restaurants for misleading consumers. It says the scale of fish renaming and mislabelling not only represents cheating, but is "an indication that global fisheries are in distress".

On the plus side, renaming species means that many fish are being made to sound more palatable. Marks & Spencer sells pilchards fished in Cornwall as Cornish sardines and witch, which was popular on the Continent but not in the UK, as Torbay sole. Rockfish is sold as Pacific red snapper; dogfish as rock salmon; while slimeheads have become orange roughy. And the zeal for renaming is increasing. Cornish fishermen are trying to get megrim, a type of sole, renamed as Cornish sole after retailers, including Waitrose, struggled to interest shoppers.

The TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who has just written a new book on fish, is altogether against eating wild salmon, saying "it's not sustainable". But he also says renaming species can help people to avoid "species under a lot of pressure and be more adventurous".

Cornish sardine

A glammed-up name to banish the image of cold tinned pilchards for Sunday tea

Torbay sole

The fish formerly known as witch is flying off the shelves at Marks & Spencer

Cornish sole

Fishermen want this catch renamed, as shoppers won't buy a fish called megrim


The Scottish crustaceans are now the country's most valuable seafood. Their old name? Nephrop. Yum...

Chilean sea bass

The old Patagonian toothfish didn't look too appealing on the menu

Orange roughy

Well, which would you rather order? Slimehead or orange roughy?

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