The need to catch and consume fish in a more sustainable way has risen dramatically in the public’s consciousness in recent years. Britain’s fisheries provide a vital source of employment and economic development as well as a historical way of life for our coastal communities.
As a nation, we are pretty unadventurous when it comes to seafood. More than seventy-five per cent of all the seafood we currently eat comes from just five species: salmon, cod, haddock, tuna and prawns. As a result, these have been massively overfished and resulted in the discarding of a number of other species, which are of good quality, yet currently lack a stable and viable market. These under-utilised species represent about seventeen per cent of the total English catch. If we want to help solve the problem we need to diversify the different types of fish we eat.
During a recent exploration of Northumberland (about which more next month) I visited Amble, where I learnt about an admirable new initiative to help support the local fishing industry, introduce people to new types of fish and try and to take the strain off overfished stocks.
The Creel Fish Club is a fish box scheme where people can access quality, fresh, locally sourced, seasonal fish and seafood on a regular basis. It is based at the Seafood Centre in Amble, where it is run by Helen Spark and Andrew Gooding.
Fish Club members pay a certain amount on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis (prices range from around £7 to £25) and collect their fish on a set day from one of the hubs (local distribution points) dotted around Northumberland. Club members are also provided with a selection of simple yet delicious recipes based on what’s been caught that week; the recipes include preparation tips and simple techniques to help make the most of the catch.
“We’ve been running Creel Fish Club for just under a year,” Helen explains, “and the feedback has been really good. In the last year we’ve had more than forty varieties of fish and shellfish in the boxes, and nearly all our members have said they had no idea just how much variety of local fish there is in our seas. The squid and monkfish have been particularly popular, along with mussels, Lindisfarne oysters and cooked crab claws.”
The fish selection is as fresh as it gets: all the fish is landed within forty-eight hours, comes straight from the fishing boats into the Fish Club cold store, is boxed on site, then is ready for pick-up. The Fish Club buy the fishermen’s catch whatever it might include, and by supporting the fishermen who have a ‘whole catch’ ethos, not only are club members helping them remain sustainable but also they will be getting a great variety of seafood throughout the season.
“Members of Creel Fish Club never know what they’re going to get in their box each week — but that is part of the fun,” Helen says. “They are all learning about seafood too — what to look for, how to prepare it, how to cook it, and what the benefits are (both health-wise and economically) in eating different types of fish.
“The Fish Club has held cookery demonstrations for club members with two local seafood chefs in Amble: Martin Charlton from the Old Boathouse; and Jonny Bird from Sea & Soil and the Fat Mermaid. These have proved very popular, and are a great way for members to learn about different seafoods, and how to prepare and cook them,” Helen adds.
“By subscribing to Creel Fish Club,” Helen concludes, “you can be assured your fish will be super-fresh, seasonal, sustainable and local — and delicious.”
Creel Fish Club: Northumberland Seafood Centre, Amble, Northumberland NE65 0FD; 01665 713580; http://northumberlandseafood.co.uk/creel-fish-club/