UK seafood industry shows off
On Saturday and Sunday, 11 and 12 July, the Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival sited around the historic Weymouth harbor on England’s south coast attracted an estimated 55,000 people to learn about and taste the best fish and shellfish the county has to offer.
And it was not just local people and holidaymakers who attended what has become the United Kingdom’s largest free seafood fair. South West Trains, which runs services from London, reported that 1,000 visitors an hour were pouring into the seaside town. “People are coming from all over to this festival and it’s great to see,” Anna Wallis, one of the festival’s organizers, told the Dorset Echo newspaper.
More than 40 species of seafood can be sourced from the sea along the Dorset coast. These range from familiar fish species such as cod and plaice, to the less well known gurnard, John Dory, megrim and sand sole.
Shellfish include oysters and mussels, crab and lobster, and whelks. Squid and cuttlefish are also found.
The British are not known for being adventurous in their choice of seafood with whitefish species such as cod still dominating the types of fish they choose to buy. This, of course, does no favors to the British fishing fleet since, because of global warming, these species have moved north and the United Kingdom is now importing more than 90 percent of the cod it needs from countries such as Iceland and Norway.
On the south coast of England, locally landed fish have traditionally been loaded into waiting trucks and taken across the English Channel to continental Europe where they are highly valued. That is why it was heartening to see locally caught gurnard being served in a roll to appreciative customers at the festival.
The majority of fishing vessels in the Dorset area are day boats. This means that the fishermen return with their catch on the day it is caught which provides high quality product. The types of fishing methods used by day boats include potting, static net and hand-line. These are particularly low-impact methods and produce little by-catch and discards.
People were not just visiting the festival to sample seafood. Talks and demonstrations by West Country chefs, including Jack Stein, executive chef of Stein Restaurants which includes the famous seafood restaurant in Padstow started by his father, Rick, and Nigel Bloxham proprietor of the Crab House Café restaurant just outside Weymouth, were very well attended. Bloxham gave presentations about grey mullet and whelks, both of which he serves in his restaurant.
Such is the drawing power of the seafood festival that Jimmy Buchan, a trawler skipper for 40 years and who featured in the “Trawlermen” television series, travelled all the way down from Peterhead to launch his Skipper’s Choice boxes of Scottish seafood sold online direct to customers throughout the United Kingdom. He was also barbecuing smoked mackerel and herring.
Oysters have been out of favor in England since Victorian times, but they were being enjoyed with obvious satisfaction at the festival, so much so that Bloxam had run out of supplies of his Portland Royal Oysters on his stand by late afternoon on the first day. A shuttle service was in place the following day to replenish stocks from the farm in the nearby Fleet Lagoon.
Pop-up restaurants are very much in vogue in the United Kkingdom and the Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival joined in the trend for the first time this year. The Hive Beach Café, well known for serving locally caught seafood, offered “a cosmopolitan menu of finest fish and seafood sourced from local suppliers” in a tented restaurant overlooking the atmospheric Weymouth harbor.
On the Saturday evening most of the diners seemed to be ordering local lobster.
Not all of the approximately 100 stalls were serving seafood or products derived from fish or shellfish such as the small bottles of Lobster Oil offered by Catch from the Isle of Wight. Complementing the many stalls selling cooked seafood there were fishy-themed gifts, clothing, kitchen utensils, bakery, pancakes and fine art.
This was the 16th annual seafood festival to be held in Dorset. Preliminary dates for next year have been announced as 9 and 10 July.