The Norwegian Seafood Council took this year’s Top 10 Fish & Chip Takeaways to Ålesund, Norway, to learn a lesson in provenance, traceability and sustainability
Thirty-two years ago, Seafish pioneered the National Fish and Chip Awards to put the very best of the UK’s fish and chip shops on a pedestal.
And for the past five years, the Norwegian Seafood Council has been taking the owners of UK's top 10 Fish and Chip Takeaways to Ålesund to learn about Norway’s historic fishing trade.
Frozen at sea
This year was no different with all ten finalists starting their trip by visiting The Granit, a brand new 85-metre longliner fishing vessel and mobile factory, where thousands of tonnes of cod and haddock are caught every year. There, fish is filleted, skinned, cut, portioned, weighed and frozen within hours. As well as producing fish fillets, offal is used to create fish meal and fish oil.
Over 95% of the UK's fish and chip shops use frozen at sea fish, and this trip offered the finalists a chance to see how quickly the produce is caught and processed, allowing them to dispel any misconceptions on their customers' part.
"Some customers don't know what frozen at sea fish is or understand that it is fresh. My personal view is that it's fresher than fresh fish you buy from the supermarket," said Emir Hikary of Hiks in Swansea.
"If you buy fresh fish, you have some trawlers that for instance will go out on a Monday and don't come back until three to four days later. That fish is three or four days old."
On the second day, the finalists were taken to a processing facility and cold stores, where stocks of fish are held (or dried and salted to produce Klippfisk) before being shipped around the world. I think it’s safe to say most of the finalists were in awe of the volume of fish stored here.
Afterwards, they met with Inge Halstensen, honorary member of the Norwegian Fisheries Association, Knut Korsbrekke of the Institute of Marine Research, and fishing vessel owners’ representative group Fiskebåt's Ode Kristian Dahlhe to listen to a series of lectures, hammering home the necessity for the industry to be sustainable.
Indeed, for every professional in the industry, from the fishermen, to the factory owners and the import-export traders, all the way to the UK fish and chip shop owners, depleting fish stocks is not desirable, especially those from the Barents Sea.
The Norwegian fishing boat industry, from coastliners to longliners, trawlers, pelagic trawlers and crab vessels supply a third of the seafood consumed in the UK - and 25% of the cod. It is why sustainability is so important.
True sustainability, meaning that not only are resources preserved to provide for future generations, but they are also nurtured so as to provide more, makes economic sense both for Norway and the UK, whose GDPs are reliant on the seafood industry.
It is for this reason that regulation on fishing has become more strict - as demonstrated by the MSC's decision to remove its sustainability badge from North Sea cod.
By virtue of the Ålesund trip, it is hoped that Britain's fish and chip shops, driven by the industry's best, can help spread the word that origin indeed matters.