Rick Stein urges consumers to choose 'good' fish

Terry Kirby
Wednesday 08 December 2004 01:00

While the scientists, the environmentalists, the fishing industry and the politicians wrangle over the future of the seas and oceans, where does this leave the consumer?

While the scientists, the environmentalists, the fishing industry and the politicians wrangle over the future of the seas and oceans, where does this leave the consumer?

Yesterday's message from the Royal Commission on environmental pollution could not be clearer. At a time when we want to eat more fish and, in particular, oily fish, as part of a healthy diet, there is now unprecedented alarm at the over-fishing of many of these species and the devastating effects of industrialised trawling on the environment. The days when the north Atlantic and the North Sea provided all the cod and plaice we could ever want to eat have long gone, possibly never to return.

So, what does the consumer do at the fish counter or when given a restaurant menu when the choice is limited to a series of fish which we, according to the advice of organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society, should actually not be eating? Is that cod fillet from the carefully managed Icelandic stocks? And has the baked sea bass been caught by a trawling method believed responsible for the deaths of dolphins?

The answer, the society says, is that we should be eating more responsibly and more imaginatively, and that there are many more fish in the sea than the predictable choices of cod and plaice. It recommends, among others, cuttlefish, flounder, gurnard, whiting, black bream and spider crab as neglected, but easily caught fish from around our coasts.

This is a view endorsed by responsible chefs such as Rick Stein, who has placed fish at the forefront of the revolution in British eating habits in the past two decades, through his television shows and restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall.

Stein says: "It is just scaremongering to say people should stop eating fish because it is so good for you as part of a balanced diet. But it is important, among a lot of conflicting information, for people to get the right message. It makes sense for people to try new species of fish and, if they are not on sale in your fishmonger, ask why not. But there are other, easily available fish like herring, which nobody eats very much these days in this country, and yet is very good for you, and cheap."



Once one of the world's prime food sources, prized for its good flavour and pearly white flesh. Now at dangerously low levels in the North Atlantic and North Sea. Stein says that while cod from the managed Icelandic cod fishery is the choice at his restaurant, another option is the hoki , found around New Zealand. Now recognised as a prime white fish, hoki spawn easily and grow fast, so are sustainable.


Also a traditional fish restaurant favourite, more recently turning up pan-fried (with black butter or capers) and poached. Skate and rays are vulnerable to exploitation as they are slow to mature, as are other popular but endangered non-British fish such as bluefin tuna or swordfish. Stein urges us to plump for less fashionable, but fantastically healthy and abundant fish like herring or mackerel.


Another mainstay of the British diet, it has a delicate taste, and is considered the posh but unfashionable alternative to cod. The current North Sea stock is about 190,000 tons; the minimum level is 230,000. A 55 per cent cut in fishing next year is advocated. Stein recommends megrim sole which, until recently, was not fished for because there were enough plaice to go around.


Until it became a staple of fashionable restaurants and gastro-pubs, sea bass was not targeted for large-scale fishing. But soaring demand has led to trawling for spawning and pre-spawning fish, which threatens sustainability and also kills dolphins caught in nets. Grey mullet, another big, meaty, firm-fleshed fish, can be stuffed and baked in much the same way as sea bass.


Another member of the cod family and once a stalwart of the fish and chip shop. Levels are higher in the North Atlantic than the North Sea, but cod are often netted with them. Another firm white fish, Pollock, is found in our coastal waters and is a favourite of harbour-wall anglers. Can be treated the same as haddock.


The fish with the huge, child-frightening head was originally used for cheap "scampi" and became massively popular when the potential of its meaty flesh was discovered - and more expensive, resulting in stocks being seriously threatened. Stein is a big advocate of John Dory, which yields firm fillets of white fish on either side which are best for pan-frying or grilling.

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