Seafood festivals — making seafood fun

Throughout Europe this summer, hundreds of ports, towns and villages have held their annual seafood, fish or oyster festivals, promoting local produce and boosting tourism, while celebrating the bounty of our seas.

Some are small affairs, dedicated solely to fish and shellfish, while others have grown to encompass music, heritage, arts and local crafts. Many raise considerable funds for charities, particularly those associated with the seafood industry. 

One thing they all have in common is the ability to encourage the general public to eat more seafood, through means of cooking demonstrations and tasting opportunities, and an infectious enthusiasm for everything piscatorial at such events. 

A straw poll of visitors to Fishstock in the English port of Brixham last weekend found adults and children trying new species, eating fish for the first time — and enjoying it. 

Fishstock Brixham, a fishy version of the infamous Woodstock festival, certainly pulled in the crowds, achieving record attendance and raising more than GBP 10,000 (USD/EUR) for charity, according to festival manager Jim Portus.

“The main aim of the festival is to raise vital funds for the Fishermen’s Mission, and we pride ourselves on promoting top quality, delicious world foods and the best of fresh Brixham fish to festival goers, against a backdrop of local musicians, interactive cooking shows, demonstrations and local traders,” he said.

“This was certainly a festival to remember; a crowd pleaser that served its true purpose, and educated many about the wonders of fishing, the delights of fresh fish and the need for due regard to our precious fisheries resources and the marine environment,” said Portus.  

Retailer Morrisons sponsored a new feature at the event, a “Food is Fun” seafood kitchen classroom, where kids learning to handle, prepare and cook fresh fish, turning out dozens of fishy-fingers for their waiting parents to sample.   

“We sponsored this year’s event as a show of support for the important work of The Fishermen’s Mission, which helps fishermen in hardship,” said Huw Thomas, Morrisons fisheries and aquaculture manager.

“As a fresh food retailer we feel it’s incredibly important that children understand exactly where their fresh food comes from, and have recently launched our own educational website ‘The Academy of Food,’ which is a free education program designed to help children understand where good food comes from,” he said.

For restaurateur Mark Hix, promoting seafood along the coast in Lyme Regis, where he has the Oyster and Fish House, organizing or participating in festivals is a natural part of building his own business, which also benefits the wider business community.

“This year we organized separate mackerel and crab celebrations, which were well received by the public, and we have just pulled off a really successful ‘Food Rocks’ weekend, with some of the country’s top chefs doing demonstrations, including Mitch Tonks from the Seahorse in Dartmouth and Jack Stein from Padstow,” he said.

Food Rocks incorporated a successful Guinness Book of Records attempt to get the largest number of guitars playing a song at the same time, with Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ belted out by around 3,000 guitarists to a backdrop of flare smoke drifting in from the sea. 

“It was a great occasion, with everyone having fun, and provided a conducive atmosphere to enjoying some seafood,” said Hix. 

Does it have a lasting effect on seafood sales? Hix believes that it does, because it opens people’s minds to new tastes and textures and breaks down barriers.  

Flamboyant cooking demonstrations by local chefs were also a highlight of Newquay’s recent fish festival, where hotels and restaurants made the most of an opportunity to promote fresh local fish and shellfish during the weekend-long event.  An all-day fish barbecue on the harbor quay couldn’t keep up with demand, and Katy Davidson’s pop up “Mangez-Moi” Oyster Bar introduced many a visitor to the delights of fresh Cornish oysters. 

Davidson has a passion for oysters and campaigns to convince the British public that they are delicious, nutritious and one of the most sustainable farmed species on the planet.

“A recent poll showed that 47 percent of people voted the oyster the least likely food they would try,” she said. “I believe they are a real gastronomic experience and I welcome everyone to try them if they’ve never dared before, and it’s surprising how many change their minds once they have ben brave.” she said.  

One of the most famous European events, the Galway Oyster & Seafood Festival, takes place each year on the last weekend of September in Galway City, Ireland. According to the organizers, it is the most internationally recognized Irish festival after St Patrick’s Day and the world’s longest running Oyster Festival.

The pinnacle of such events, it incorporates seafood trails, oyster hot spots, oyster shucking championships, talks & tastings, food producer tours, a food village, a Mardi Gras style gala event through the streets of Galway, plus live music and cooking demonstrations. Celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2014, the festival has seen more than 3 million oysters consumed since it began and farmers are getting ready for bumper sales at the event this year.


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