Lockdown Britain gets a taste for its native (but VERY ugly) fish

Lockdown Britain gets a taste for its native (but VERY ugly) fish

July 11, 2020

Mmm, whiff and chips! Or would you prefer gurnard? Or weever? Lockdown Britain gets a taste for its native (but VERY ugly) fish

  • Britons are trying new types of fish, such as whiff and gurnard in lockdown 
  • More obscure species, including weever, are making its way onto British plates
  • Home deliveries soared by 950 per cent during the coronavirus crisis

When it comes to a trip to the chippy, British tastes have always been pretty conservative. Most opt for cod or haddock, while the more adventurous might order skate or swordfish.

Lockdown, however, has forced a change in the market – and a surge in interest in native species that are among the ugliest beasts you’re ever likely to net.

Whiff, also known as megrim, is increasingly making its way on to British plates along with gurnard, weever and spider crab.


British tastes in fish are changing in lockdown – species such as the weever (left) and the gurnard are making its way onto UK plates

IT’S THE CATCH OF THE DAY 

GURNARD

Three types found in UK waters – red, grey and yellow. Prehistoric-looking fish with lean, white flesh. Has six leg-like feelers and plate-like scales that look like armour. Grows up to 16in. Often used in soups.

WEEVER 

Two types found here – lesser and greater. The greater, also known as viper fish, is mainly sold to eat. An ugly, drab fish with upturned mouth and eyes at the top of its head. Grows up to 14in and has venomous dorsal fin spines. Tastes like sole and can be fried in butter.

WHIFF 

Also known as megrim, fluke or Cornish sole. From the same family as turbot, grows up to 24in. Has a large head and mouth on oval body. Meat is tender and flesh slightly oily. Popular in Spain where it is called gallo, meaning rooster.

Rodney Anderson, a former Defra head of fisheries, said: ‘For decades, celebrity chefs have been telling consumers to enjoy more British fish.

‘It turns out the silver lining of Covid-19 is the public have seized the chance and are loving our home-caught fish.’ 

The UK exports around 70 per cent of fish caught in its waters but lockdown effectively closed this market. 

This, combined with the shutdown of the hospitality industry, triggered a demand for local fish, and home deliveries soared by 950 per cent.

Alison Raynsford, a business consultant from Plymouth, now regularly buys a £19 box. 

She said: ‘It’s like a treasure trove – you’re never sure what’s inside.’ She baked the weever fish she received and served it with spinach and tomatoes.

An early effort to keep the UK seafood industry afloat in lockdown was the launch of listings website Call4Fish. 

Run by Mr Anderson, it linked customers with individual fishermen and boats and demand remains high.

John Molnar, owner of Cods Scallops in Nottingham, which was recently crowned the UK’s best fish and chip shop, sells gurnard and chips for £7.50. 

He said: ‘When I first opened nine years ago, 95 per cent of fish was cod and haddock. Now they are 65 per cent, as underused fish are getting very popular.’

Whiff, also known as megrim (pictured) is also on the up due to a growing demand for local fish

The UK imports about 70 per cent of the fish we eat, with the majority of retail sales being for cod, salmon, haddock and prawns.

In 2018, we imported 674,000 tons of fish, mainly from Iceland, China, Germany, Denmark and Vietnam. 

By contrast, we exported 448,000 tons, mainly to France, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland and the US. That included most of the 18,000 tons of gurnard and 34,000 tons of whiff landed by UK fishermen.

Eating domestic fish is also green. Charles Clover, of Blue Marine Foundation, which campaigns to protect seas, said: ‘If we ate all the fish landed locally… we would take pressure off species such as tuna, which is caught far away and rather unsustainably.’

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