default blog post image

What healthy fish look like

  My daughters are 7 and 8 years old. Like many children of their age, they like fish but are deeply suspicious of anything that looks like it might once have been alive. For them fish means fish sticks or cakes, crusted in unnaturally orange breadcrumbs and slathered in ketchup gore. At a push they sometimes accept a piece of Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable pollock from the North Pacific, but breadcrumbs are mandatory. Like many parents, I want my kids to eat fish for the health benefits but what goes into processed fish troubles me. A few years ago, I met a fish trader from the North Sea port of Grimsby on the English coast. He described to me the odyssey of a fishing trawler landing its catch in Europe. Once the hold was full, the captain first took the boat to France where prime fish sell for premium prices. He then headed to Holland where second quality fish were sold to less discerning customers. Finally, the captain chugged his way to Grimsby to offload the remainder of the catch, now rather tired and definitely third rate. They would be made into fish sticks and cakes...destined for our children. Now I know that not all fish sticks are that bad. In the better ones, it's even possible to make out the odd flake of fish flesh amid binder and protein gel. I wonder what my children would make of the diet of Harvey Cheyne, the 15-year-old boy in Rudyard Kipling's 1897 novel, Captains Courageous. Harvey is a pampered rich kid who falls off a steamer in thick fog off the Canadian Grand Banks and is picked up by a fishing boat. He has to muck in with the crew and live like them. You might think that 19th century fishers dined well on the best cuts of the fish they caught, and they did. But it wouldn't be fish recognisable to most of us today. The cod they caught were mighty beasts. Rather than eat saleable fillet, the cook boiled up cod heads and sailors dined on tongues, cheeks and eyeballs. Most fish are sold today without their heads or are so small it is hard to put this diet to the test. But I can confirm from experience that cheeks are among the most succulent pieces of any fish. I'm not an eyeball man though...too crunchy! ———- Callum Roberts is Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York in England and the author of The Unnatural History of the Sea. Click here to visit his website.