UK supplier’s solution to discard conundrum

Published on
September 12, 2011

The 22 boats that land to the Hastings Fish CIC fish merchants in the south east of England have become the first UK fleet to sign up to a groundbreaking campaign designed to create a viable domestic market for all fish species caught by the country’s coastal fishermen.

Launched by Direct Seafoods, the UK’s biggest wholesaler of fresh fish, the Coastal Fish program aims to give long-term support to the UK’s troubled local fishermen and to provide a solution to the much-maligned practice of discarding currently unmarketable fish at sea. 

While Direct Seafoods has long been a major buyer of locally caught fish and landed, Coastal Fish expands the company’s product portfolio through its core strategy of paying a reasonable, sustainable price for the entire catch landed by coastal fleets. 

Prices are agreed well in advance between the fishermen and Direct Seafoods’ head fresh fish buyer Les Daniels. 

Behind the scenes, the company will be marketing these less-popular species to its entire chef customer base and urging them to buy into the concept of menuing fresh, local fish.

The Bidvest subsidiary plans to roll the scheme out to all coastal fleets over the next two to three years in line with its expansion plans.

As well as providing greater financial security to UK fishermen, Direct Seafoods hopes the program will encourage the nation’s consumers to try lesser-known, undervalued species like gurnards, dabs, megrim, pouting and whiting — species that are often discarded to make room for more valuable fish.

Direct Seafoods CEO Stephen Oswald said it is his company’s belief that if it can sell the whole catch, and not just selected species, then less fish will need to be caught.

“By using the whole catch, from smaller, local coastal boats, we can reduce waste, provide fresher fish to our customers and keep fish stocks healthy too,” said Oswald.

Laky Zervudachi, the company’s sustainability director, told SeafoodSource that through the campaign top restaurant chefs will be encouraged to use all these varieties and identify them as “Coastal Fish” on their menus.

“It’s a win-win situation for the chefs and the fishermen, and we were delighted to get the Hastings boats onboard. Les [Daniels] and I met with them and Hastings CIC to explain our strategy, and they were very keen to sign up,” said Zervudachi. “And from the UK consumer perspective, people are now much more receptive to trying new things thanks to all the publicity generated by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fish Fight.”

Zervudachi explained that Coastal Fish goes beyond buying all the catch landed by local, day-boat fishermen. Direct Seafoods will actively encourage them to fish for certain abundant species, he said.

“Two years ago we encouraged the Wahaca [a Mexican restaurant chain] to use Marine Stewardship Council Hastings herring, which we get smoked [by a smoker with MSC chain of custody]. We can now request the Hastings boats, through this relationship, to fish for herring throughout the month of November so we can build up a nice stock ready for the Wahaca winter menu,” he said.

“It means the fishermen can go out and know what they are catching — they can have the right gear on; they won’t catch fish that nobody wants, which is better for everyone,” continued Zervudachi. “If we can build up more of these relationships and get fishermen to catch what’s actually needed, then I think we’ve created something that’s very exciting for the catering industry. At the moment the restaurant business is not led by anyone; it’s in the middle of fads and fashions. 

“But we’re now in a brilliant position whereby we can order fish and create markets that are much more open. We can provide fish and encourage people to try other things. That will hopefully lead to more chefs saying ‘we can use more pouting,’ for example,” he said. “We hope we can create these new markets because at the moment many of these fish are just being wasted. It’s just a matter of thinking laterally to making it all work and we believe this project will open all that up.” 

Another outcome from the Coastal Fish campaign will be that more of the valuable species caught in UK inshore waters like sole and turbot will stay in the country for consumption rather than being sold to markets on the European continent such as Boulogne, France, which has been a destination for a lot of premium species in the past, including those caught by the day boats of Hastings.

The Coastal Fish logo will start appearing on Direct Seafoods’ vehicles and staff uniforms this week.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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