There’s a long history, an enduring fascination and a rich bounty in the fish to be found in the water in and around Yorkshire.
Princess Aelfleda of Whitby Abbey put out to sea in a fishing boat in 654 AD and the last pike in the Abbey pond perished in a drought in the 1980s and there are still native white clawed crayfish – albeit protected – in the highest moorland reaches of the Rivers Wharfe, Ure and Swale.
The greatest source of Yorkshire fish is naturally to be found off Yorkshire’s east coast. A big fish angler once hooked a 700lbs tunny which took him five hours to land, and hauled his rowing boat 12 miles in the process. In the 18th century thousands of whales were harpooned among the icebergs to be landed in Yorkshire ports (along with sea horses and polar bears).
Grimsby is now the European headquarters of the fish finger and the ocean stick and holds one of the country’s biggest fish auctions, though now the fish is more likely to travel by road and container from Iceland than from UK trawlers.
Yorkshire fish is found in Yorkshire rivers. Wild salmon are present in seven rivers, including the Don, once one of the most polluted rivers in England. The return of wild salmon to our rivers is one of the best wildlife stories of the decade.
When buying fish, markets, especially Leeds and York remain a prime source for the Yorkshire fish shopper now that most high street fishmongers have had to give way to supermarket fish counters. Inexperienced staff and slow-moving stock can make supermarket fish a hit and miss affair.
We couldn’t talk about fish and seafood without considering sustainability. According to the Marine Conservation Society, (MCS) the charity helping to protect the marine environment, we are taking fish out of the sea faster than they can be replenished. Some nets trawl the sea bed damaging the marine life and upsetting the whole eco system.
Nor is farmed fish the answer because it uses more fish to make fish food than it actually produces. How and what we fish is now an issue.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy was devised to help conserve fish stocks, but one of its most contentious aspects is the use of quotas. Quotas are limits on certain species of fish that fishermen are allowed to catch. Once they have reached their quota of, say cod, they are forced to throw back any more cod that comes up in their nets. This means that prime fish like cod, haddock, coley, whiting and plaice are being thrown back dead into the sea. It’s a situation disliked by both fishermen, conservationist and politicians. In 2011 the CFP comes under review and campaigners are pressing for a change in the quota system with the Fish Fight Campaign
The Marine Conservation Society still urge us to eat fish but ask that we choose Yorkshire fish that comes from responsibly managed sources.
What applies to the fish shopper also applies to restaurants. It’s difficult to know where restaurants source their fish, but if you get to know what fish are endangered, you can do your bit, by not ordering from the menu and encouraging chefs to only offer fish from sustainable sources. Check out the MCS website and download their Good Fish Guide or go to www.fishonline.org for information on what fish to eat and what to avoid.