In Chef's Table

…Exec Head Chef, Chris Spencer catches up with fish supplier, Direct Seafoods, to talk all things seafood.

We’re hooked on great fish and seafood at the Carnarvon Arms, but we also appreciate that our fabulous fish dishes should never cost the earth. We only ever source and serve fish that we know have been responsibility caught and are a regular on the Marine Conservation Society sustainable fish list – The Good Fish Guide.

There’s so many delicious fish out there to try and we love to introduce a wide variety of fish on our menu to both reflect our beautiful coastline and help preserve and protect fish stocks for future generations.

We source much of our fish from Direct Seafoods, a quality fish supplier serving a stellar line-up of Michelin-starred restaurants, gastropubs and hotels, and proud supporters of the UK’s fishing industry.

They are ambassadors in their field with an ocean of experience in conservation and sustainability as well as a wealth of great recipes up their sleeve for those looking to try a few of the more unusual species of fish and do their bit for the planet.

Here are their top tips on how to choose the most sustainable fish and why it’s important for us all to consider sustainability. (comments from Tim Wehrle, National Account Manager at Seafood Direct)

We all know us Brit’s love a bit of cod, but cod has also had a bit of a rough ride over recent years. What are the alternatives we should try?
It’s true, cod was close to being put on the endangered list, but swift action from the Government and the Fisheries Board in the form of strict quotas has brought cod fish stocks back to a healthy level. Cod is now seen as highly sustainable with fish stocks currently on a par with volumes seen before the quotas were introduced.

During the strict quotas imposed on cod, many alternative species were promoted to help aid its recovery. This did much to help broaden the range of fish available in shops, pubs and restaurants and, at the same time, gave the immature cod stocks time to mature . Pollack and coley, for example, were seen as great alternatives to cod and chefs and shoppers could also benefit from their cheaper price point. However, as their popularity increased so did market demand, and the price of these fish is now not that dissimilar to cod itself.

How have the fish eating habits of the UK changed over the last 10 years?

It’s great to see the popularity of fish increasing in the UK and consumers becoming more adventurous in the types of fish they are enjoying. Fish traditionally is seen to be more suited to the female taste – offering a lighter alternative to meat – however, across the board, we’ve seen an increase in fish sales.

The UK fish eating habits have historically centred around five most popular species, all of which are imported from overseas rather than originating from our own waters. Cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns continue to make up the bulk of all fish eaten in the UK, but we are slowly becoming a more adventurous nation of fish eaters, with more local species appearing in shops and on menus. This in part has had much to do with the increase in popularity of TV cooking programmes with celebrity chefs creating dishes using lesser-known species of fish in a bid to  encourage consumers to try something new.

What can pubs and restaurants do to encourage us to eat a wider and more diverse range of sustainable fish?
Pubs and restaurants can do much to market and advertise the diverse range of fish available on their menu. Creating a tempting array of dishes featuring those lesser-known fish and promoting them as specials is a great way to introduce variety to customers. Serving small tasting plates to encourage customers to sample something a little different is a great way of expanding a customer’s repertoire of fish species without them having to commit to ordering a full-size dish if they are feeling a little unsure about their choice. Staff who are also passionate about the food they serve goes a long way in encouraging customers to be more adventurous. If staff are knowledgeable about their menu and the dishes that chef has chosen they can educate and inform their customers to make the best choices.

Which fish are currently a ‘no-go’ on the menu?
Fish such as red snapper, bluefin tuna, eel and shark are all rated highly and ranked as ones to avoid on the MSC sustainability rating.

On average how long does it take for fish stocks to recover from overfishing?
Fish stocks can improve within 2 to 3 years if you catch them at the right time, if left too late however, overfished stocks can never fully recover. It’s all about allowing the fish population to grow and fully mature – they need to be of a good enough size to keep the population going in order for full recovery to be achieved.

What success stories have there been in terms of intervention and recovery in fish stocks?
The recovery of cod stock levels has to demonstrate one of the most successful intervention policies in recent years. Cod stocks were previously at a critical level with the species near to endangered prior to the strict quotas being put into place. Allowing stocks to replenish and mature has resulted in cod regaining its sustainability rating provided it is fished responsibly. In fact, many stocks have now returned to a similar level to that seen before the quotas were first introduced, with fish stocks bouncing back incredibly over the last few years.

A similar intervention policy is now being introduced for haddock to mimic the success achieved for cod, and hopefully we’ll see haddock back on the good fish list in a couple of years time.

Are all methods of fishing the same, or are some deemed more sustainable than others?
Pole and line fishing is still the most sustainable means of fishing and the preferred option. Dredging remains the worst form of fishing as it rapes the ocean bed, pulling up everything from the bottom of the sea indiscriminately whilst also creating a huge amount of damage at the same time.

People aren’t usually that wild about fish farming – but does this provide the answer to sustainability and how have methods changed?
Fish farming has come a long way over recent years and there is now a much more structured means of accreditation in respect of how fish farming should be carried out. One of the huge benefits of fish farming is that it encourages people to try out a range of sustainable fish that is well-managed in terms of stock levels, whilst at the same time giving other wild species, which may be on more of a critical list, the chance to prosper and mature. Around 50% of fish we supply is from quality farmed stock and includes species such as sea bass, gilt-headed sea bream, salmon, various shellfish along with halibut and turbot.

We hear much of fish quotas and wastage – what can diners do to help minimise ‘fish dumping’?
The UK has got much better at minimising fish wastage and campaigns such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign have done much to educate diners on how the choices they make in pubs and restaurants can help minimise fish dumping. It’s an area that globally we all need to continue to address, and countries such as Norway are definitely leading the field here, with the government introducing a no-discard policy. Consumers can continue to help drive this change by seeking out and only buying or eating fish that they can be sure fits within more sustainable fishing methods. Choose restaurants known to deal with accredited seafood suppliers which are committed to only buying fish from well within quota. Ask fishmongers about the fish they stock – where the fish came from, how it was caught and if it is MSC certified for example.

What are your tips on the three best fish to watch and try in the future?
Species such as stone bass or meagre are making a real comeback, as is hake and ling. We are also beginning to see advances in fish farming with farmed cobia now coming out of Panama, a delicious game fish that’s increasing in popularity and hopefully will be making more regular appearances on menus in the future.

For more information on fish sustainability and the best fish to eat visit or check out for further detail on the fish we serve at Redcomb Pubs.

Plus, look out for some great fish dishes on our menus, all featuring prime, sustainable fish fresh from Direct Seafoods. And, if you fancy trying out a new fish dish at home, why not have a go at our delicious monkfish curry recipe or swap the monkfish for a local Cornish catch of gurnard. We’ll also be serving our delicious monkfish curry throughout October to support Seafood Week and National Curry Week.

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