Fish is one of the big reasons I wanted to do the course here at Ballymaloe. My background is in fisheries management and marine science. It is strange but I have not often cooked with fish much at home. I will nearly always order seafood in a restaurant and I truly love eating nearly every fish type. I am so aware of how valuable fish is and fisheries has been a part of my livelihood for a relatively long time. My hesitance in cooking it is probably due in part to my lack of confidence in preparation as well as over exposure to fish!
Sustainable fisheries and how our food habits can influence and be influenced by our entire marine ecosystem are all things I am hugely interested in. Fishing is an occupation, or way of life, which is so influenced by environmental practices from all over the world. Unlike farming, in which you can manage (albeit amid strict legislation) your land in a way you are comfortable with in order to create wonderful produce, fishing can be hugely challenged by the influence of many external factors as well as high levels of management and legislation.
That is not always a negative thing but it certainly makes for a challenging business. For this and so many other reasons, being knowledgeable about fish and where to buy from, is so important.
What does that mean? What can we as consumers do to change bad practices?
Sustainable fisheries are the way to go. For the most part, you are looking for small scale fishermen on inshore or nearshore vessels catching seasonally and in limited quantities. Nothing good can come from factory ships, hoovering up anything and everything from the ecosystem.
The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone interested in seafood: buy local and buy seasonal. You may love salmon but buying farmed Alaskan salmon does nothing of benefit to our ecosystem or for long term success of fishing in Ireland. Similarly, most people love cod and while cod stocks are slowly recovering, importing cod from Norway caught by an offshore trawler isn’t half as good for you or the environment as buying beautiful pollack from an inshore dayboat caught as freshly as possible.
If you want seafood that is out of season, you are better off buying fish caught and frozen as locally as possible than importing from a distant country. Talk to your fishmonger. Think before you buy. Don’t buy your fish from a supermarket! Try new species! And most of all, enjoy your fish! Like meat, it is a real treat. So happy Friday, go get yourself some yummy fish and get to know your fishmonger!