THEY are some of the ugliest fish with the ugliest names, although you may have eaten them on holiday in Spain, Greece or France.
But a government agency has now produced a list of forgotten and neglected marine life from Scottish waters to tempt diners in Scotland to change their fish-eating habits.
The “Forgotten Fish” list has been published by Seafood Scotland, the body responsible for promoting Scottish catches, which hopes to inspire consumers to become more adventurous by eating more squat lobster, ling, megrim, hake and saithe.
Libby Woodhatch, the chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “Many people are unaware of the wealth of species that can be found in the seas around Scotland, which are often highly valued in export markets. They may even end up on the plates of holidaymakers from Scotland, who mistakenly believe they are locally caught.
“At home, consumers often get stuck in their buying habits as most local fishmongers and supermarket fish counters sell these ‘forgotten’ species, or can obtain them, as do the growing number of restaurants and cafes that have Scottish seafood on their menus. The more people ask for different fish and shellfish, the easier they will be to obtain locally, rather than ending up on plates around the Mediterranean.”
When it comes to fresh seafood Scots still predominantly eat cod and haddock caught in the waters around the UK with farmed salmon in third place. For instance, 44,000 tonnes of salmon was sold in the year up to the end of April, compared with 281 tonnes of whiting.
Top of the Seafood Scotland list, however, is langoustine, known to Scottish fishermen as prawns and one of Scotland’s most valuable exports. Although langoustine are Scotland’s third-largest catch at 29,000 tonnes in 2011, only 5.7 tonnes were sold on the UK retail market, compared to more than 30,000 tonnes of imported warm and cold water prawns.
Although hardly known in this country, megrim is so popular in Spain that almost all the Scottish catch goes straight there. Hake is also popular in Spain, while much of the whiting catch from Scotland goes to France and Ireland.
Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin said that some of the forgotten fish are a key part of his menu. “On my lunch menu I work really hard to make it affordable so I often have squid, hake and pollock and people enjoy it. People often say, ‘I have had this in Spain’ – and I say to them, ‘It’s Scottish.’
“Things are getting better but I know when I was training as a chef in Gleneagles the langoustines used to get taken down to London and then brought back to Scotland.”
Roy Brett, chef at Ondine in Edinburgh, which won Scottish Restaurant of the Year last year, said attitudes were slowly changing towards fish caught more locally.
“This restaurant was brought about because of my interest in sustainability, which is something I care deeply about. It is the only way forward.”
He said some of the fish on the list, such as squid and langoustine, might be hard to prepare at home and consumers might be reluctant to buy shellfish they had to kill, like crab, but they would buy something prepared by a fishmonger or try it in a restaurant. “People are becoming more adventurous, but it takes time.”
Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said a healthier home market would be good for the industry. “The trouble is we have got used to eating slabs of white fish dipped in batter and breadcrumbs,” he said.
“There’s a lot of choice out there. Of course we need to keep exporting but increasing the demand for fish that are on our doorsteps would be a good thing.
“If I’m looking for something special for dinner I’ll have Scottish langoustine. It is absolutely beautiful.”
Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said that although exports were hugely important to Scottish fishermen, stimulating the home market could only be beneficial. “Scottish langoustine is a big Scottish catch and a great deal of that is exported to France and Spain. It makes sense in terms of food miles and in many other ways to make use of the bounty of the sea that is on our doorstep.”
He said people were definitely becoming more interested in how their food was sourced, but many are unaware that most of the Scottish catch is fished in a sustainable way. Armstrong said: “The general impression you get is that people think there is overfishing everywhere, and that is the utmost frustration to us. Most of the Scottish catches are Marine Stewardship Council-certified as being sustainable and that is not a story the public hears.”