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reLAKSation no 802

Broken counters: John Fiorillo of Intrafish has written a commentary in which he says that US seafood counters are broken. He says that the majority lose money, require lots of employees, suffer high employee turnover and experience high wastage. John believes he has the solution. The says forget the SEA, it’s time to put the FOOD back in seafood.

John’s idea is to bring all fish and seafood together rather than have it spread across the store. So instead of having frozen fish in the freezer section and canned fish on the general shelves and chilled fish in the chilled section, he proposes bringing them all together at the fish counter to create a fish enclave.

He says that many fish counters are too large to reflect the level of sales they generate so he argues that the size of the fresh counter should be cut to about 20% of its current size. The space generated can then be used to bring all the other fish products together. John says that by creating this fish super section, shoppers will be able to avoid having to go through the agonies of working how much fish to ask for because instead chilled fish portions that are the correct size for each person will be within easy reach. He looks to the UK to see how the majority of fish sales have moved away from the fish counter to chilled, emphasising consumers need for convenience and ease of cooking.

John suggests that as his new fish and seafood department will stock those products which consumers are already happy buying, then this will ultimately lead to increased sales of a wider variety of products and thus greater fish and seafood consumption.

We, at Callander McDowell, are not so convinced as John that his solution will work. It is correct that the UK is seeing more sales through chilled than through the counter but at the same time, home consumption of fish continues to decline. In the UK, most chilled fish displays are close by the fish counter so for consumers it is not a choice of one or the other. It is easy enough to compare the offer from both chilled and counter.

In our view, creating a fish and seafood enclave in the supermarket will actually hasten the decline of consumption not boost it. Shoppers don’t go to the counter now, why would adding a few cans and frozen fillets make it any more attractive?



Irish woes: The Irish Times reports that ten years after Ireland banned driftnetting for salmon at sea, the controversial measure has proved to be a failure. Dr Ciaran Byrne, Chief Executive of Inland Fisheries Ireland said that the wild Atlantic salmon is in a serious position and various conservation measures don’t seem to have worked. Dr Byrne was speaking at the annual Salmon Watch Ireland conference in Galway. He also said that marine survival of wild salmon has fallen from 20 percent of fish returning to rivers in 1980 to 5 percent today, before any exploitation. He pointed to a series of causal factors in the marine environment, including by-catch on the high seas, climate change influences and the impact of fish farming. He also said that far more work was required to improve water quality in Irish rivers and that predation on wild salmon was an increasing problem with more cormorants and seals than he has ever seen.

Salmon Watch Ireland is dedicated to the restoration of wild Atlantic salmon abundance. Although the Irish Times didn’t say so, the theme of their conference was ‘Can salmon farming be effectively regulated to protect wild salmonids’. This is not surprising since it is easier to blame salmon farming than any of the other issues because it is more visible and supposed solutions are possible.  Those who blame salmon farming for the decline in wild fish say that farms can be moved onshore to land based units and this will solve the problem. This view was endorsed by the Minister of State for inland fisheries Seán Kyne who said that land based farming could be explored as part of the review of aquaculture licensing. This ignores the fact that large scale land based farming is yet commercially unproven.

By comparison, those who blame salmon farming do so because they have no solutions to climate change or marine mortality. There is therefore little point discussing their impacts. As we have said many times previously, salmon farming is just a convenient scapegoat. Seemingly, Dr Byrne forgot to mention that the decline of returning salmon from 20 to 5 percent has occurred across the North Atlantic and not just in areas where salmon are farmed. The conference focus on salmon farming is simply misplaced.

The Irish Times highlights research by Dr Ken Whelan conducted for the EU Salsea project who found that an alarming number of salmon were dying at sea. Salmon were found to be feeding at the extreme edge of the polar ice fields due to feeding grounds moving as a result of climate change. Dr Whelan says that Irish salmon are threatened with extinction if this mortality should continue. The newspaper does not make it clear if Dr Whelan made these comments at this conference or not. His name does not appear on the conference programme. It would appear that mortality at sea is a much bigger threat to wild salmon than any salmon farm.

The Sunday Times has previously highlighted fears over a lack of salmon in Ireland, where the earliest salmon of the season has been usually caught. This year the first fish was caught in Scotland. No fresh salmon were caught in Ireland this January and the first salmon was not landed until Wednesday 1st February. The fish was caught from the Caryesville Fishery on the Blackwater river near Fermoy in Co Cork.

1st Irish salmon

At the other end of the country, Shane Gallagher manager of the Drowes Fishery on the border of Donegal and Leitrim said that more than 100 anglers turned up for the New Year’s Day opening but not one landed a fish. The fishery has produced an opening day fish for 32 out of the last 40 years. To not have a fish for a whole month is really strange.

Inland Ireland Fisheries said that the date of the first fish landed differs every year and there is no scientific assessment available that can offer any real insight into the various dates on which the first fish is landed. The agency said it would take 15 years to work out if there was a significant change in Irish salmon populations. A spokeswoman said that salmon conservation was a priority and rules were in place to protect the species.

However, it seems that whatever rules were in place to protect Irish salmon, they weren’t strong enough to protect the first fish landed. The photo of the fish shows the angler holding it by the blue tag threaded through its mouth. This is one fish which will not be able to reproduce to ensure the survival of Irish salmon. It seems that Salmon Watch Ireland is less concerned about those salmon killed for sport than it is about salmon farming.



Reversing trends: We, at Callander McDowell, have recently highlighted that fish consumption has been exhibiting a downward trend in several developed markets. On paper, the easiest way to reverse this trend is to persuade those consumers who already eat fish to eat more. This is simpler than it is to get those who rarely or never eat fish to start doing so more regularly. The problem with this approach is that it is very short-term. Regular consumers tend to be older whist those who rarely eat fish are from the younger age groups. Once these older aged consumers pass on, it is unlikely that they will be replaced with consumers who are so happy to eat fish.

Whilst much more needs to be done to change the eating habits of those in their twenties and thirties; something that could possibly be done in stores, there clearly needs to be much more emphasis on the youngest consumers.  Consumers who are familiar with eating fish from the youngest ages are more likely to continue eating fish as they grow up. The problem today is that fish consumption appears to have missed a generation or two so the youngsters today are not only not eating fish, neither are their parents and thus there is no knowledge or skills to pass on. In Norway, the problem is being tackled by a new initiative proposed by the Fisheries Minister to increase consumption amongst schoolchildren. At the moment, it is unclear what this initiative will entail.

Restaurant critic and journalist, Jay Rayner wrote in his column in the Observer Food Monthly that his 17-year-old son will leave home this year to study at university. Jay writes that whilst, as a restaurant critic’s child, his son is familiar with dishes that are probably not consumed in the average home, has become aware that perhaps his son should be more knowledgeable of some key recipes that should ensure both his survival and that his money doesn’t run out.

We have decided to write about this because Jay Rayner has written an ad hoc cook book for his son but writes that it has been difficult to choose what should be included. His list includes:

Scrambled eggs – the trick is to turn the flame off before the finish and let the residual heat do the rest.

Sofrito – (onions, garlic and chopped vegetables), This is about knife skills and understanding patience. Cooking a sofrito cannot be rushed.

Tomato sauce – add a can of tomatoes to a sofrito and this forms the base for braises. This can lead to spaghetti bolognaise and chilli.


Dress a salad

Roast a chicken

Stock – make a stock from bones and a soup from the stock.

We, at Callander McDowell may now be getting long in the tooth but we are not aware of any university student who made a stock from bones whilst at university. Spaghetti bolognaise is more likely to be the height of student cookery (and not by making a sofrito first.)

The point we would make is that that those involved in the food business can have a very different view of food to the average member of the public, yet often when help is sought to resolve questions such as that asked by Jay Rayner, it is these very people who are approached. We often think that those with food expertise have an all-round expertise that can be tapped for any occasion. The reality is that chefs and food critics are often so far removed from the simple cookery that is actually needed to encourage consumption of fish and seafood.

Jay Rayner’s view of the skills his child should know generated lots of comment from readers of Observer Food Monthly. In fact, 822 people responded to his suggestions. However, what struck us most was out of these 822 comments, two mentioned fish pie (in a list of other suggestions) and one mentioned fish fingers, otherwise fish was off the menu. This perhaps reflects the eating habits of many young people today.

Whilst cooking and eating fish and seafood should be simple, perhaps we all make it sound just too difficult. Perhaps we all need to open our eyes more to what young people do eat and how we can adapt fish and seafood to meet their current eating habits. Do we really want to be telling the average young person how to make stock, whether it be meat or fish!



A platform for a platform: EU Mare has recently tweeted that three new blue technology projects are soon to be launched. The idea is to develop roadmaps and demonstration projects in the Atlantic or North Sea to encourage investment in innovative technology. Whilst the proposal is full of all sorts of buzz words, what did stand out to us was the proposal for offshore platform innovation.

It was back in 1995 that we first discussed the use of platforms for use in aquaculture when our Martin Jaffa spoke at a meeting in Brussels. Now over twenty years later, the Commission is looking to how such technology could be adapted for Aquaculture, in particular. The UK is one of five countries eligible to apply for up to €2 million of funding to get these projects underway.

As the UK is at the forefront of marine farming, we would certainly hope that the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) is already completing the application to be lead in this research.  SAIC recently asked where aquaculture should be heading up to 2030. This is the answer.