reLAKSation no 790

Down, down, down: Seafood Source reports that although sales of seafood in the UK are booming, this growth only applies to food service. By comparison, home consumption of fish and seafood is falling. Retail sales of fish and seafood for home consumption fell by 0.6% in value and 0.9% in volume. Sales measured by unit fell by a greater 1.3%.

This news comes as no surprise to us, at Callander McDowell, for we have regularly highlighted our concerns about the continuing decline of consumption of fish at home, especially of fresh and chilled natural fish. The sales highlighted by Seafood Source cover fresh, ambient and frozen products and includes formats such as meals and coated. We suspect that if the data is broken down, then sales of fresh and chilled natural fish will be even greater than the total sales indicate. Over the past eight years, the per capita consumption of fresh and chilled natural fish has fallen by the equivalent of at least eight portions per year. This is hugely significant. It is only the presence of salmon in the retail sector that has prevented an even greater decline. Consumers are choosing to abandon the fish counter.

This is not unknown to the industry but the challenges to reverse this decline are so great that it can be easier for some to bury their heads in the sand.

It was possible to see the scope of the challenge on a BBC2 TV programme aired last week. Celebrity fish chef Rick Stein has been spending weekends in European cities looking at food and other attractions. Last week he was in Copenhagen and visited a leading fish restaurant in one of the town’s on-trend areas where he engaged in conversation with the owner – Anders Selmer of Fiskebar.

AS – When we opened, there was one fish restaurant. It was kind of old and dusty. There was no-one doing fish here. There are still very few actually.

RS – How come

AS – Well I think we lost the tradition. We did love the tradition of eating fish. The Vikings ate a lot of fish and we ate a lot of fish all the way through until the 1950s and 1960s when everything was about convenience. We didn’t want all the difficult parts. It is difficult eating fish. It’s got bones in it. Eating fish is a delicate matter. You have to know what you’re doing. Mom and Dad were going to work so there was no time for being careful and delicate.

RS – I think it’s true in the UK. People don’t like the bones for a start. People don’t like dealing with fish. It’s not just the bones but it’s the smell. They don’t like the smell of fish being cooked.

Rick ended the interview by saying he does like the smell, which may be why he is a fish cook, when the rest of us are not. He then went into the restaurant to eat hake.

Perhaps this is why food service consumption has increased in the UK whilst home consumption continues to fall. The problem is that once people have lost the ability to cook fish, it is unlikely it is a skill that they will ever regain. Is fish going to become a food service choice only?

By coincidence, the Fish Site reported that the recent Seafood Week was a success. Seafood Week which took place in October is the annual campaign aimed at getting more people to eat more fish more often. It includes both eating fish in and out of home. It was only recently reintroduced back into the calendar having been dropped as it failed to really make an impact on consumption.  The problem is that there is some form of promotional ‘week’ virtually every week and consumers tend to turn off to them. The same week as seafood week, the UK was also failing to celebrate National Curry Week.

The report in the Fish Site makes no mention of any success relating to home consumption of fish. Instead, it focuses on how catering students were inspired by Seafood week. It also mentioned how primary school pupils had special seafood experiences brought into their classrooms. For example, pupils in one school watched a silent film that educated them about the journey of seafood from sea to plate as well as stressing the importance of safety at sea.

We, at Callander McDowell are not sure how safety at sea will encourage primary pupils to eat more fish but then we are more interested in how consumers in general can be persuaded to eat more fish and more importantly, about those who never eat fish should be encouraged to start. After all, even if school pupils become excited about eating fish, they are unlikely to eat fish at home if their parents never touch it.

We suspect that most consumers this year remained largely unaware of Seafood Week. We only saw promotions in two retail chains and these promotions mainly took the form of a sticker applied to some packs of fish. We don’t think that this would have been sufficient to stimulate interest in most consumers. Certainly, those consumers who never or rarely buy fish would not have seen these stickers. Reports from last year’s Seafood Week only made one reference to the retail success with one store group reporting double digit increase in fish sales. This retailer was not one of those which applied stickers to their packs. We don’t know if their campaigns were a success. We would also be surprised if the retailer with double digit sales reported the same this year because from what we saw, their offering was generally poor this year.

Long-time readers of reLAKSation will know that we are not a great fan of broadly aimed generic campaigns. We think that they usually fail to achieve their goals because they are too general and too wide-ranging. We would argue that highly specific targeted campaigns are more likely to achieve a greater success.

We were recently made aware of a local initiative because it received national coverage as part of day-time TV viewing. Each day for one week, the BBC broadcast a 45-minute programme about the work of Sister Rita aka ‘Atilla the Nun’ who tries to help those living in the poorest parts of Manchester. This was in fact the second series of programmes following Sister Rita at her drop-in centre. The reason we were told about the programme was because in one episode Sister Rita started to organise simple cookery lessons to teach those in greatest need how to cook simple dishes. She recruited the nutritionist from Manchester City football club to show people some easy recipes. It seems the football club also run similar courses for local residents as part of their outreach programme. Of course, fish did not feature in any of the dishes but why not. Instead of investing in fancy generic campaigns why is the industry not targeting the grass roots level and helping schemes like Sister Rita’s. It seems that she is not alone and other local schemes exist elsewhere too.

Surely, if we don’t get those who never eat fish to start to learn to enjoy cooking and eating fish at home then how can we expect future generations to know about fish at all.

Finally, and changing the subject slightly, the ‘I’ newspaper reported a survey commissioned by Samsung. They asked parents what dishes they thought their children should be able to cook by the age of 11. They arrived at a list of 20 dishes, of which not one was made using fish. The dishes included spaghetti Bolognese, Jacket potato with baked beans, Pasta bake, omelette, roast chicken and beef burgers. Not even fish fingers featured on the list, which is some indictment of the public acceptance of fish, especially for children.


Great article: We were extremely puzzled recently after reading a ‘tweet’ from the Global Salmon Initiative. This read: ‘Great article – a user’s guide to buying seafood. Why eating seafood can be sustainable and nutritious.’  The link was to an article in the Washington Post.

We suspect that whoever ‘tweets’ for the GSI has focused on the word ‘sustainable’ without considering what the article actually says. For an organisation promoting farmed salmon, even the most sustainable farmed salmon, whatever that may mean, this was not a great article. Far from it, this was an article exhibiting all the usual prejudices and preconceptions against farmed salmon that have developed in the US as a consequence of long-term attempts to undermine the salmon farming industry.

So what does the article say?

Firstly, the article recommends downloading the app from the Seafood Watch programme, which as we have previously highlighted red lists all net pen raised farmed salmon. The article also says that before making any decisions about which fish to eat, then to check the Environmental Defense Fund’s seafood selector before shopping. This groups fish into categories – best, okay and worst choices. There are 11 entries for salmon, only one of which falls into the ‘worst’ category. Best choice is canned salmon and worst choice is Atlantic or Farmed. However, the accuracy of EDF’s data is brought into question as they do not even acknowledge that farmed salmon is a source of omega 3 fatty acids whereas for canned salmon they do.

The author of the article is Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and president of a nutrition communications company. She ends the article by saying that EDF list 85 choices for fish in the best category leaving her many exciting possibilities for dinner. Seemingly farmed salmon is not one of them.

It isn’t really surprising if consumers are taken in by misleading advice, if those running GSI are too. Clearly, the salmon industry still has an uphill struggle ahead.


Losing faith: We recently came across an article in ‘High North News’ written by Marit Rein of the Norwegian Seafood Council. She asks ‘whether we have lost faith in salmon’.

She writes that farmed salmon is a healthy food, the consumption of which is recommended by international nutrition authorities. For the last 16 years, Norwegian salmon has been studied to extremes for evidence that contamination and not once has anything harmful been identified. So why, she asks, do so many think otherwise?

Yet whist some question the safety of farmed salmon, how many ask questions about the pizza, meatballs and bread they eat. Do they ask about the welfare of the animals that produced the meat in their food? Do they ask about heavy metals in beer or dioxins in milk? Despite a huge variety of foods being consumed, including fruit, vegetables and meat, but how many people ask for a full environmental or energy audit of any of these foods.

According to Marit Rein, no food in Norway todays receives more attention than salmon and she asks why? Why does salmon attract so many enemies, and so many vocal enemies?

It was not until she began working in the fish industry and started to investigate for herself that she realised that she, like so many others in Norway, have been misled by ignorance and many unsubstantiated claims. She said that her research has led to only one conclusion and that is salmon is healthy and good to eat.

However, the one question that Marit Rein has failed to address is why has salmon received all this adverse attention in Norway. The answer is the same as everywhere else and that it is the negative image of salmon farming that was created in the US by some of the large charitable foundations with the aim of protecting the local wild fisheries. These foundations, as identified by Canadian Vivian Krause, channelled millions of dollars into the environmental sector to create campaigns aimed at persuading US consumers to avoid eating farmed salmon because it would either damage the environment or their health. Campaigns such as ‘Farmed and Dangerous’ and ‘Pure Salmon’ circulated leaflets or ran adverts which they hoped would deter consumers from buying farmed salmon. Fortunately, consumers ignored these messages and continued buying farmed salmon and as the secret funding had been identified by Vivian Krause, the campaigns fizzled out and were forgotten by consumers but not by the environmental sector who were taken in by the messages of their own campaigns. The message is as strong as ever within the environmental sector. Farmed salmon is bad both for the environment and human health.

The problem for the industry is that instead of standing up to these environmentalists, the easier option is to be seen to be working with them. Unfortunately, they will continually change the goal posts.

Instead of listening to those who spread negativity about salmon farming, we should listen to Marit Rein. Salmon is healthy and good to eat. That’s what we need to know.


A limit to conservation: Earlier this month, Salmon & Trout Conservation claimed that the Scottish Government’s Conservation Limits for 2017 were based on ludicrously inflated estimates of salmon numbers. The Scottish Government had sought comment during a month-long consultation period with stakeholders. A review of the responses has now been issued and this lists the changes which have been implemented.

We, at Callander McDowell, are most interested in the status of rivers and fishery districts along the west coast, where the salmon industry is located. According to the Scottish Government, 25 representations were received which raised concern about the calculation of stock abundance and questioning whether stock size had been over-estimated. As a result of these representations, Scottish Government scientists have been working with biologists from the west coast to revise estimates of exploitation. This has resulted in 11 rivers downgraded from category 2 to category 3 and therefore subject to mandatory catch and release.

The significance of these changes are that all those rivers and fishery districts that had been classified as category 1 remain as category 1 suggesting that stocks in some parts of the west coast are relatively healthy despite the presence of salmon farming in the locality. The implication is that salmon farming has not been as damaging as some stakeholders in the wild fish sector actively claim.