Fishmongers key to UK seafood industry’s future
By Mike Urch, SeafoodSource contributing editor
05 July, 2012
This was the message that Martyn Boyers, CEO of Grimsby Fish Dock Enterprises, had for guests at the UK’s National Federation of Fishmongers 80th Anniversary Luncheon, which was held at Fishmongers’ Hall in London on 25 June. ‘We need fishmongers and their expertise,’ he said.
Boyers said that the retail fish trade in the UK ‘had changed out of all recognition’ since the federation was formed in 1932, and the bulk of chilled fish and seafood was now sold through multiple retailers.
The emergence of supermarkets and the subsequent birth of ‘one-stop shopping’ has seen the demise of countless independent food retail outlets in the UK, not just fishmongers. But fishmongers seem to have come off worst in the battle for survival.
A number of reasons have been suggested for this. John Adams, a past president of the federation, pointed out that supermarkets could afford to sell fresh (chilled) fish as a loss leader, so local independent fishmongers would not be able to compete on price.
Another reason he said was that ‘there are no entrepreneurs left in the UK’ and the long hours required to run a fishmonger’s shop are also said to put people off. However, supermarket fish department managers often want to become fishmongers, according to a federation official ‘because they feel they can do better on their own.’
Research has shown that British consumers prefer to buy fish and shellfish from fishmongers because fishmongers have more knowledge about what they sell than staff at supermarket fish counters. Certainly they have the necessary skills in preparing fish to be cooked at home, something supermarket staff often lack.
These skills are demonstrated at the federation’s annual British Fish Craft Championships, which are now in their sixtieth year. After being held at Hay’s Galleria, not far from Fishmongers’ Hall, the craft championships now take place in Cardiff Bay in Wales as part of the Cardiff Harbour Festival.
“The craft championships play an important role in nurturing raw talent and marketing fish to the consumer,” said Gary Hooper, the federation’s president.
There has been a huge change in the mix of species sold by British fishmongers during the past 30 years. Cod, once the UK’s favorite fish, now represents a small percentage of sales, while the advent of aquaculture has made a big difference to what is on offer.
In addition to Atlantic salmon, which is farmed in substantial quantities in Scotland, bass, bream, trout, turbot, halibut, and shellfish such as mussels and oysters, are now commonplace on fishmongers’ counters.
The National Federation of Fishmongers incorporating Poultry Game and Rabbit Traders Ltd, to give the organization its full name – approximately 50% of UK fishmongers sell game – was incorporated on 24 June 1932 ‘to protect and further the interests of the fishmonger and associated trades.’
It was the first organization to specifically represent the retail sector of the UK fish industry and is still its official voice in dealings with government departments and seafood trade organizations such as Seafish. There have been all manner of legislative issues to consider, not least the impacts of metrication, waste disposal, fishing quotas, hygiene, fish labeling etc.
A more direct financial benefit to members is that the federation offers them GBP 5 million (USD 7.8 million) public and product liability insurance. It also maintains a legal helpline and mails quarterly newsletters keeping members informed of legislation changes, and helps them with queries on local matters, setting up new fishmonger businesses, supplies, suppliers etc.
During the Second World War, the federation had more than 9,000 members and although membership has markedly declined since then, it still represents approximately 50 percent of the UK’s independent fishmongers.
The National Federation of Fishmongers obviously has an important role to play in the UK’s seafood industry and after the luncheon, which featured tuna and salmon — an indicator of how tastes have changed during the past 80 years — members were confidently looking forward to it representing them for the next 80 years.
05 July, 2012