How Britain's fish and chip shops are moving with the times

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Provenance, traceability, sustainability - these aren't words customers would have uttered at their local chippy a few decades ago. 

But times have changed and fish and chips aren't what they used to be. Consumption has dropped and the industry is having to rethink its practices.

Restoring pride in a National dish 

Norwegian seafood haddock with wild mushroom ragout 1
The Granit

Fish and Chips are a bastion of British culture.

During WWII, Winston Churchill insisted on there being no rations on fish and chips, as he believed that to subsidise the dish would boost national morale - and yet, as is the case in large swathes of the industry, many of the sector's businesses are closing. 

For this reason, ten years ago, UK seafood industry representative Seafish pioneered the National Fish and Chip Awards

By putting the best of the industry on a pedestal, it is hoped that it will thrive once more, by raising the bar and encouraging businesses to hold themselves to high standards. 

As part of their nomination, last week, the UK's top 10 Fish and Chip shop owners visited Ålesund with Seafood from Norway to learn about the country's historic fishing trade. 

Frozen at Sea

They visited The Granit, a brand new 85-metre longliner fishing vessel and mobile factory, where thousands of tonnes of cod and haddock are caught every year. There, they are filleted, skinned, cut, portioned, weighed and frozen within hours. As well as producing fish fillets, offal is use to create fish meal and fish oil. 

For Ashley Phillips of Shap Chippy, the boat trip would allow them to "share with customers this journey that their nation's favourite dish goes through." 

95 percent of the UK's fish and chip shops use Frozen at Sea fish, and this was their chance to see just how quickly the produce is caught and processed, allowing them to dispel any misconceptions on their customers' part. 

"Some customers don't know what Frozen at Sea fish is or understand that it is fresh. My personal view is that it's fresher than fresh fish you buy from the supermarket," said Emirs Hikary of Hiks in Swansea. 

"If you buy fresh fish, you have some trawlers that for instance will go out on a Monday and don't come back until 3-4 days later. That fish is 3 or 4 days old."

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On their second day, the finalists went to a processing facility and cold stores, where stocks of fish are held (or dried and salted to produce klippfisk) before being shipped around the world.

Then, they met with Inge Halstensen, honorary member of the Norwegian Fisheries Association,  Knut Korsbrekke of the Institute of Marine Research and fishing vessel owners representative group  Fiskebåt's Ode Kristian Dahlhe. 

Each spoke of the necessity for the industry to be sustainable. 

Indeed, for every professional in the industry, from the fisherman, to the factory owners and the import-export traders, all the way to the UK fish and chip shop owners; depleting fish stocks is not desirable.

Purely from an pragmatic  standpoint, they need to ensure that the industry is sustainable, or they may not have a job to do in the future. End customers are more demanding of this, too.

Sustainability - true sustainability, meaning that not only are resources preserved to provide for future generations, they are nurtured so as to provide more - make economic sense both for Norway and the UK, whose GDPs are reliant on the seafood industry. 

This point was neatly explained by marine science researcher Knut Korsbrekke - who has spent the past 20 years analysing of seafood stocks in relation to the fisheries and advising the Norwegian government and international bodies such as the EU and the UN. 

"Wanting to improve systems, not damaging them and understanding more of what's going on, that's sustainable development," he said. 

It is for this reason that regulation on fishing has become more strict - as the MSC's decision to remove its sustainability badge from North Sea cod shows, as does the ban on commercial fishing around the Arctic circle.

Exchange at a time of political uncertainty

The Norwegian fishing boat industry - from coastliners to longliners, trawlers, pelagic trawlers and crab vessels supply a third of the seafood consumed in the UK - and 25 percent of the cod. 

"In total Norway exports £10bn worth of seafood to 140 countries - with Britain buying £600m worth of it - that's 2.6m tonnes," explained Hans Frode, the Norwegian Seafood Council's British envoy. 

But as Britain's exit from the European Union looms, the nature of the trading relationship between the UK and Norway - not a member of the EU, but of the  European Economic Area (EEA) and of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is uncertain. 

So there we have it: an industry in need of a boost faced with increased consumer standards, a highly uncertain political climate and an environmental crisis.

Here's hoping that Britain's Fish and Chip shops, driven by the industry's best, can step up the challenge. 

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th September 2019

How Britain's fish and chip shops are moving with the times