Covid-19 highlights importance of our pelagic fisheries

Covid-19 highlights importance of our pelagic fisheries

By Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association and Chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group

One element that has been revealed during these challenging times has been the importance of food supply, both in terms of production and also in the logistics in ensuring it reaches shop shelves.

Indeed, the Covid-19 crisis highlights the importance of national food security, and in Scotland and the rest of the UK, we are fortunate that the seas which surround us hold some of the most productive fisheries in the world. There is cod and haddock, shellfish such as langoustines, as well as an abundance of mackerel and herring. We are truly fortunate that our strategic location in the North East Atlantic boasts such rich marine resources.

Provided these fisheries are sustainably managed, then they can supply us with a healthy-to-eat food resource for long into the future.

In the short-term, as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, our fishing industry will continue to play a key role in catching the fish that ends up on our plates. Throughout the height of the pandemic, our fishermen kept on fishing, whilst processors also continued to handle the catch. It was a heroic effort, for which we should all be grateful.

Recovering from the pandemic will be challenging, especially since the economy will have taken a big hit, which in turn means that consumers will have less money in their pockets for buying food. This means we will have to make careful and prudent choices when shopping, finding the right balance between nutritious and tasty food, along with value for money.

This is where mackerel and herring have a key role to play because both are plentiful in supply, taste great and are inexpensive. Both fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and are a great source of essential minerals and vitamins. Indeed, research has shown that both mackerel and herring are good sources of vitamin D, and with the current Covid-19 restrictions confining people indoors for much of the day and reducing our exposure to sunshine, it makes sense to ensure both types of fish form a regular part of our diets.

Over the last two centuries herring was a main staple of our society. The herring boom of the 19th century led to the Scottish fishing industry becoming the largest in Europe and in the early years of the 20th century it is estimated there were over 10,000 boats fishing for the ‘silver darlings’ alone. It was even possible to walk from one side of Wick harbour to the other across the tightly packed boats such was the scale of this herring bonanza.

However, the decades that followed resulted in over-exploitation, which led to a complete closure of the herring fishery in the late 1970s and early 1980s to enable the stock to recover.

The North Sea stock has bounced back and is now in good health, but sadly, since this period of recovery, the fish went out of fashion as a foodstuff, and the UK market became much diminished. This is a shame because herring has so much to offer. However, perhaps now there is a new opportunity to stimulate demand as we emerge from the pandemic, given that herring is affordable, delicious and nutritious.

The Scottish summer herring fishery gets underway in June, providing the perfect opportunity to indulge in this wonderful fish. Fresh herring is perfect for the barbecue, but can also be oven-baked, fried or grilled.  There is a wide range of marinated herring products available in supermarkets, and smoked herring – kippers – are still a great favourite among many.

For mackerel, one of the tastiest options is canned mackerel, which come packed in brine or oil, as well as a wide range of exciting flavoured sauces such as curry and sweet chilli. Some of the canned mackerel-in-sauce products are designed for being heated and served with noodles and rice, which makes it possible to have a nutritious individual evening meal serving for less than a pound in cost.

Canned mackerel is also convenient to store, and makes a good lunchtime choice too, by mixing it with mayonnaise to create a tasty and delicious sandwich filler.

Hot smoked mackerel is another superb option – packed full of flavour and a good accompaniment for a salad, or by making it into pate and served with crusty bread or toast. Our innovative processing sector supplies several different types of smoked mackerel with spiced and herb flavoured coatings.

Nutritional experts say we should all aim to eat two portions of fish per week, one of which should be an oil-rich fish such as herring or mackerel. In these times when we are all going to have to tighten our belts, mackerel and herring are the perfect meal choice for taste, our health and our pockets.