More fishies on dishies is good for you and Grimsby

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 16 May 2018

You’ve heard about getting your five-a-day – but experts say eating your two-a-week of seafood could boost your health and the Grimsby economy.

THE Young’s advert for breaded cod from 2011 included the annoyingly catchy line, “You shall have a fishy, on a little dishy” from the folk song, When The Boat Comes In.

But it turns out that, as a nation, we’re not putting enough fish on our plates. Currently, the average household eats just one portion of seafood a week and there is an industry-wide push to get that up to two portions.

And for those in Grimsby, devouring more fish won’t just have health benefits – it could boost the town’s economy in a big way, say seafood industry chiefs.

According to statistics in the industry’s Seafood 2040 strategy document, increasing average consumption to two-portions a week would mean an extra £4.6 billion in sales nationally.

For Grimsby, with the largest seafood processing cluster in the UK, it would be a profit rise that the town’s economy would directly benefit from. The Seafood Village on the docks produces 80 per cent of all the seafood products sold in the country.

Icelandic Seachill’s operation

Seafish, a Grimsby-based public body responsible for promoting and improving the seafood industry, helped co-ordinate the aforementioned 56-page Seafood 2040 strategy to outline how the Government can start to help incentivise people to eat more fish.

Martyn Boyers, the chief executive (CEO) of the Grimsby Fish Market, was one of the contributors to the Seafood 2040 document and Grimsby MP Melanie Onn and Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers are both strong supporters.

Read more: Free food hygiene training module offered for free to seafood workers

Seafish CEO Marcus Coleman said seafood was currently the fourth most eaten protein in the country, with chicken, beef and pork all ahead of it. He said the aim was to push seafood up the ranks and into the medal positions, so to speak.

“We would very much like to get seafood onto the podium and it is our aim to get into that bronze position,” said Mr Coleman.

“We are trying to raise awareness of the twice-a-week advice. People know about the five-a-day with fruit and veg, so shouldn’t we have a similar campaign advertising to eat seafood two times a week?

“It is so good for you in terms of its natural fats, protein and omega 3 – it is a health food.”

Mr Coleman acknowledged that it has sometimes been an uphill task in the past to persuade shoppers to buy and eat more fish.

But he said Grimsby’s group of producers – the likes of Young’s and Icelandic Seachill, as well as smaller operations – were leading the way in helping to overcome those obstacles.

“People have struggled with the smell of seafood or with knowing what to do with it or how to cook it,” said the Grimsby-based boss, who was appointed in 2016.

“What Grimsby companies are very good at doing is putting it in ‘ready to cook’ formats, whether that is putting it in a bag with butter or doing it in a gourmet style which is ready to put straight in the oven. Those formats are doing very well.

“They are promoting more products that are ready to consume and it those that are seeing the growth.”

The majority of UK shoppers are in a bit of a rut when it comes to eating different types of fish, with salmon, cod, haddock, tuna and prawns making up 80 per cent of all seafood sales.

In fact, the popularity of the staples are increasing, while supermarket campaigns to tempt buyers into swapping their dinner choices for something different have fallen on deaf ears.

Sainsbury’s started encouraging shoppers in 2011 to “Switch the Fish”, giving free alternatives out on its wet fish counters on one day every year.

It used the campaign to push sales of lesser-eaten seafood, such as lemon sole, mussels, sea bass, coley fillets and rainbow trout, but it stopped advertising the scheme in 2015.

The reluctance to experiment might not just come down to not knowing what to do with North Sea natives such as monk fish or brill – the price could also be playing a part.

Read more: Icelandic Ambassador confident trade in fish will be free and uninterrupted come Brexit day

Seafood is seen as an expensive option by some so it is easier to stick to what you know on ‘fish Fridays’ rather than branch out.

Mr Coleman said consumers should not be put off buying frozen or even tinned fish, which can often prove cheaper but still come with the health benefits.

“You can buy a tin of tuna for less than £1 and you can usually put that in a pasta dish and you have a dinner containing fish for your kids which has probably cost less than £2 overall,” he said.

“And fish fingers are one of the nation’s favourites and they can be very good for you.”

Grimsby MP Melanie Onn, pictured left, has been pressing ministers on the Seafood 2040 strategy, recognising that an uptake in fish could be good for the town’s prosperity.

She has had written parliamentary questions answered by ministers in both the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) expressing their support.

But Ms Onn took exception with the perceived vagueness of Defra’s reply, accusing the department of not doing enough to back the seafood sector.

Fisheries Minister George Eustice said in his reply that his department would be setting up the Seafood Industry Leadership Group to “lead in the delivery of Seafood 2040 in terms of developing more detailed plans and recommendations”.

But the Conservative junior minister admitted the group was “not yet established”.

Ms Onn said: “We want to see how government strategy can look, in part, at improving the consumption of fish products in this country and to encourage people to experiment a bit more.

“It is disappointing that, even though he says he is signed up to the principles [of Seafood 2040], Mr Eustice is yet to start having conversations across government about it.

“The Government says those conversation will happen but they are not happening right now.”

The Labour MP said she would like to see the Government putting more fish on the menus at public institutions, especially given that any hike in orders for fish dinners would make for a bigger pay day for Grimsby’s seafood cluster.

“In schools and in the NHS, we have captive audiences who need a nutritious meal and, with fish being brain food, why would we not incorporate it into a number of public sector areas and into those canteens?” said Ms Onn. “That is something government departments could do to drive through internal procurement.”

The rising price of seafood has not helped in the bid to persuade shoppers to put more fish in their trolleys and Brexit has also caused uncertainty and tension for the industry.

Read more: £17.2m – Five Star Fish losses are revealed as consultation continues

While fishermen are keen to leave the European Union and its Common Fisheries Policy, seafood processors – the companies making the “plate ready” meals for restaurants, supermarkets and fish and chip restaurants – are anxious about being outside the single market and customs union.

Brexit has already pushed prices up due to the lower value of the Pound when importing fish from Iceland, Norway and elsewhere.

And Seafood Grimsby and Humber, the group representing the region’s multi-million-pound processing sector, has warned that any future customs delays and import tariffs as a result of being outside the EU could hurt business in the town.

The Grimsby seafood cluster employs 5,000 people and there were concerns in March when Five Star Fish, which held a number of Marks & Spencer contracts, announced it was closing its Grimsby factory, with almost 400 jobs on the line.

But Young’s stepped in and announced it would take over the M&S contracts, supplying the high street chain with frozen coated fish, natural salmon and white fish until 2023 while creating 200 jobs.

The seafood processing industry’s issues appear to be on the Government’s radar, with Theresa May writing to Tory backbench MP Martin Vickers, pictured right,  about the “deeply unsettling” news of Five Star’s closure and Environment Secretary Michael Gove announcing he will visit North East Lincolnshire to meet industry leaders this month.

Mr Vickers said: “Seafood processing is a vital part of the local economy. Despite the sad decline of Five Star, the continuing success of Seachill, Young’s and Morrisons shows confidence in the future.

“I’m right behind the Seafish campaign – it is good for peoples’ health to eat more fish and it’s good for our local businesses.”

So the message is clear then – eat more fish because it is good for both you and for the town.

And when it is boiled down to that one line, no one in Grimsby should need a 56-page strategy document to persuade them that they should be putting more fishies on their dishies every week.



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