It is nigh impossible for most people to be able to differentiate at the checkout between fish that had been caught with minimal impact to the marine eco system and those that have wreaked considerable damage.
Knowing where to start in an incredibly complex marine world is tricky – while everyone knows that to limit damage on the seas hand-line caught fish are some of the best, and that it doesn’t get much worse than outlawed dynamite, but what about the rest?
The vast majority of fishing lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. In this 99% ‘grey’ fishing area, there are some practices that are significantly better than others, and Sole of Discretion’s aim is to help you navigate your way through. In a perfect world perhaps we would return to anglers catching all of our fish with a rod and line, but hand-line caught fish will satisfy only a fraction of demand so becomes elitist, amplifies fishing pressure on a limited number of species, and just as importantly, does nothing to differentiate between the most damaging fisheries and many of the better small-scale ones.
Small-scale fishers around the globe face similar problems – access to the fishing areas or to quota, limited days at sea due to weather or seasonality, limited or no access to ice or processing facilities, inability to command control over prices and limited or no presence at policy level.
Moreover, on the land side, their fish is not differentiated from those of the industrial boats, meaning that consumers are not able to actively buy fish from the small-scale fishers. For the most part, recognisable access to market, except at the very local level, is non-existent and all traceability is lost. This is in spite of the fact that more and more people are now actively choosing to buy ‘local’ or ‘ethical’ and take an interest in where their fish comes from as a result of rising awareness of the degradation of our seas.
At Sole of Discretion we are committed to providing the public with better access to the catch of these small-scale fishers, in the knowledge that used wisely, the small-scale fishers are able to meet demand.
One of the difficulties the small-scale fishers face and we seek to solve is the inherent vulnerability of their small-scale fishery to poor weather.
The odds are stacked against the small-scale fishers in the modern food system. They are unable to fish when the weather is poor, or go offshore to find fish when they are not in season. This results in them being unable to provide a consistent supply to the processors. This means they are often unable to command better prices, in spite of their quality being superior in many cases.
Moreover, as the modern food system requires volume, they are often unable to meet the demands of the processors on a consistent basis.
Our solution is two-fold: Blast freezing our processed fish usually within 24 hours of landing allows a continuity of supply even when weather is poor or fish are not in season. We’ve done numerous blind tastings, and in many of them people preferred the blast frozen fish! There was no question that freshly frozen fish is preferable to 5 to 10 day old fresh fish, which is what you regularly find on sale at the supermarket.
The small-scale fishers who utilise sustainable harvest practices often struggle to compete. Flash-freezing, when paired with careful handling of the fish produces a high-quality end product to eaters. Advantages of this freezing process allow the small-scale fishers to avoid the volatility inherent in the fresh-fish market, extend the shelf life of their catch, reduce waste, lower carbon emissions, and deliver what seafood eaters are demanding: delicious food.
Despite the careful handling, attentive processing practices, and good quality, consumers still demonstrate a marked preference for fresh fish, often attributing “fresh” with a product that is healthier, higher quality, and even more local.
This pervasive preference, along with the desire to build more stable markets for small-scale fishers, prompted the US -based NGO EcoTrust, to address two key assumptions: that frozen fish is less fresh and less tasty than its unfrozen counterpart. Their extensive research revealed that contrary to current consumer perceptions, the flash-frozen fish was regarded as either more desirable or statistically equal to fresh fish.
Caroline Bennett is the founder of Sole of Discretion, a fishing co-operative borne out of a desire to make it easier for the conscientious shopper to eat fish without that nagging doubt they might be contributing to a depleted and damaged marine ecosystem. You can buy a wide range of delicious, blast frozen fish from Sole of Discretion at Farmdrop.
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