There’s Something Fishy Going on With Supermarket Seafood

Here at Fish for Thought, we live and breath freshness. We are passionate about what we do and work hard to deliver the finest, freshest seafood to our customers. However, just because we are experts, we don’t claim to have all the answers just yet - every day we are refining and improving our process to take our service to the next level. This means asking a lot of questions of ourselves and the industry at large, specifically the big supermarket four; a challenge that we’d like to extend to you.

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We believe that ‘fresh’ should actually mean fresh, so the next time you bring fresh fish into your home from the big supermarket players, you should know the answer to the following questions:

How old is your fish on the day it’s eaten?

Where was it caught?

Which boat caught your fish?

Which method did it use to do so?

How far has your fish been transported?

How many times has your fish been handled?

These are the questions we try to answer when providing our service to you. If the answers are anything less than what you’d expect in a Michelin star restaurant, we won’t deliver it to your door.

However, the largest commercial suppliers of fish, the supermarkets most people visit every week, are falling far short of these standards and are unlikely to be able to answer a single one of the questions above.

This begs the ultimate question; should you trust where your supermarket’s seafood comes from?

We’ve done the research so that you don’t have to.

Some-fin’s wrong here…

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Unfortunately, it’s a grim reality. Owing to their size, a supermarket’s supply chain encounters numerous complications that result in delays in getting fish from the water and into your basket.

Originally caught on fishing boats that are at sea for anything between 6 and 10 days, fish are initially purchased through a wholesaler, before being passed to a consolidator and transported by a distributor - all before they are displayed in-store.

This inherent inefficiency results in each individual fish being handled multiple times along its journey, with each interaction impacting the quality and freshness of the product you ultimately receive. Usually, this handling comes as a result of repackaging as the fish moves between various one-use parcels, vastly increasing the amount of waste sent to landfill in addition to the sizeable travel miles accumulated per fish.

Consequently, these lengthy transport times mean the fish are constantly defrosting and deteriorating in quality during their travels, barely arriving at the store in an edible condition. This is actually good news for the stores; the older the fish, the cheaper they are able to purchase it! The lack of transparency extends to your in-store experience, with any ‘previously frozen’ label to be found on the supposedly fresh produce displayed almost as an afterthought.

So what if we dig a little deeper, asking where in the world this delivery of fish has come from?

Again, the sheer scale (excuse the pun) of a supermarket chain is their undoing. Buying in bulk means fish from boats across the world are sorted as one order, treated together to the point where stores aren’t able to tell you which ocean the fish they’re selling has come from, let alone whether or not it is supporting local markets.

All this culminates in fish that arrives in-store close to, or even past, what we at Fish For Thought would consider being its shelf life. Unsurprisingly but disappointingly, this leads to high levels of wastage, produce that has to be simply discarded - despite fishermen having literally risked their lives to catch the produce. Not only is this an unsustainable waste of food, but it is also why the range of fish supermarkets offer is so limited. Their immense volumes of wastage would also apply to any

high-value fish a supermarket elects to stock (such as turbot or pollack, essentially any non- established species), causing them to turn too big a loss to justify their inclusion on shelves. Taken together, we’ve now arrived at the heart of our issue with the supermarket system; it’s just a numbers game to them.

Fresher waters

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To put it simply, here at Fish for Thought, we try to act as the antithesis of such practices. We source the vast majority of our fish directly from South Western markets and boats - processing it mere miles away from where it made land before shipping it straight to you. This approach has more in common with the processes of a top-quality restaurant than a typical fishmongers, streamlining our supply chain to avoid unnecessary wastage. Overall, this means the produce you receive is between 5-10 days fresher than anything bought on the high street.

As we always say, it won’t be fresher unless you catch it yourself!

The direct sourcing model we operate on also allows us to retain information on where your fish has come from, including the name of the market it was purchased at (in many cases down to the individual boat itself!) and which sustainable method was used to catch it. We’re aiming for an automated system that catalogues the boat every individual fish was purchased from - can’t say we’ve ever seen Tesco down the markets…

We aim for complete, end to end sustainability - extending to how we parcel our fish, which we believe should be just as sustainable as the produce itself. All our packaging is fully recyclable, using cardboard and sheep’s wool pouches as opposed to harmful polystyrene, despite the extra costs to Fish for Thought. We will never prioritise profit over sustainability, even when that means having to innovate new ways to keep fish fresh in the name of retaining our values. In the same way, if our fish has to come to you frozen, we’re not ashamed to say so. Clearly marked and ready to go straight into the freezer or defrosted for consumption, you’ll know exactly how your fish has been treated and what that means for you - a fresh approach to seafood (literally!) It’s this integrity and honesty that we believe is lacking in every supermarket store, which is precisely why we’re committed to being as open with our customers as possible.

As a whole, our values are informed by expert guidelines. Co-operating with organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society and the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide, we simply refuse to stock any species that don’t come recommended by their sustainability ratings. So, whilst we specialise in the South West, we champion British produce in general. This means we’ll source our fish from outside our home counties where necessary, to the benefit of our customers.

Take our range of Shetland Salmon, for example. Requiring a source that met our high standards, we left no stone unturned and visited a number of farms personally to ensure whichever supplier we collaborated with did exactly that. Ending up in the Shetlands, we saw for ourselves fish that
were penned between two islands, the strong currents of the Atlantic meaning they are constantly swimming, resulting in meat of the highest quality for our customers.

Swimming against the current

Inevitably, the question of ‘why’ this is the fight we’ve picked arises, being the little fish in a big ocean that we are. It’s recommended that we eat fish twice a week, but only 1 in 5 of us actually do, so we want to make it as easy as possible for more people to experience healthy, quality fish
regularly. Fundamentally, we believe that people deserve to know the truth about their food.

It’s certainly not a case of wanting you to stop enjoying fish or to only come to Fish for Thought for your seafood either. In fact, if you can find fish at a higher quality than our own, that’s great! The
standards we hold ourselves to are what we’d expect to see across the entire industry.

Having already identified that there has to be a better way for our industry to operate, it’s simply a matter of taking action to bring about the change we believe to be so important.

We believe the best way to do that is this; the next time you head into your local supermarket (or anywhere you buy your fish from), ask them these questions:

How old is your fish on the day it’s eaten?

Where was it caught?

Which boat caught your fish?

Which method did it use to do so?

How far has your fish been transported?

How many times has your fish been handled?

We can almost guarantee that you’ll be met with blank faces in the majority of cases - but those who can answer you confidently are those that deserve your custom. Together, we can tell the industry at large that consumers are simply demanding better. Through marrying all the benefits of a traditional fishmonger with the convenience of technology, we’ve long surpassed the archaic model's supermarkets are clinging to.

We’re firm believers in the thought that it only takes one instance of change to create a ripple effect that has an industry-altering impact. We think it speaks volumes that people still find the idea of selling fish online strange, but we take it as a compliment. Our belief in what we’re doing here at
Fish for Thought motivates us to lead by example - we’re going to make that initial splash in our ocean.

There are outstanding examples of sustainable fishing out there but, whilst it is undeniably harder, it’s undeniably worthwhile.

Fish for Thought - remarkable seafood online.