This week has seen a resolution to the ‘prawn wars’ brewing off the West Coast as larger boats from the East Coast, having meagre pickings in home waters, muscled in on their brethren. Another example of the idiocies perpetrated by the Common Fisheries Policy, (the sooner we get Scotland’s own negotiating team at the table the better), this will ban the bigger interlopers from August 1st.
At the same time, the Herald announces a seven-figure takeover of the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar in Argyll with Roy Brett, Scotland’s top seafood chef as its culinary director. Other than being on the West Coast, why are these related? Actually, it has little to do with geography. A third related story is the booming business of two new eateries at North Berwick harbour: the Lobster Shack and the Rocketeer. Both are open-air and informal but, despite the worst summer on record, both are going like a fair. Why?
Because, for the first time, the many visitors who come to North Berwick’s quaint town and pristine beaches can get their hands on some of the superb seafood that passes through here, en route to wholesalers in Eyemouth who ship most of it to Spain for the enjoyment of British tourists. Fishermen are happy because they get twice the price; everyone seems to gain.
These prawn wars, Loch Fyne and NB harbourside restaurants all serve to illustrate that we Scots have our heads in the sand when it comes to one of this country’s glories—seafood. Why on earth we export most of it at wholesale prices is a mystery when its superb quality makes it an obvious attraction for tourism. Whether Maine or the Maldives, other countries ‘get it’; why don’t we?
At present, there is no coherent plan to exploit our world leadership in pelagic fish, shellfish and farmed salmon; each business is left to bumble along as best they can. Dont even mention Scottish Enterprise because a more myopic set of jobsworth timeservers would be hard to find when it comes to any enterprise at all. Nonetheless, every time the seafood business makes progress in the right direction, the public follow.
The other main clueless provider of unnecessary log-jams is Crown Estates who sit in their London offices and charge anyone for attaching anything to ‘their’ seabed. They don’t actually do much else, just charge for anchorages, harbour improvements, fish farms, pretty much anything to do with improving our seafood industries.
But this latter is improving—from full to partial pain in the arse. Under considerable pressure to get off said nethers, they plan to pass control of oysters and mussels (which attach themselves to ‘their’ seabed) up here into Scottish control. This means that the prospect of making a business out of reseeding and/or farming these becomes realistic.
Even without such improvements, examples exist elsewhere about how much a boost to tourism top quality fish restaurants supplied by top quality produce can be. We needn’t look abroad either: Rick Stein has made Padstow, Cornwall a mecca for fish-lovers. Down there, because of constricted harbours, fishing boats are small and trips are daytime only. That means the fish landed were in the water that day. If you’ve ever tasted fresh-landed mackerel, you’ll know it’s like another fish—full of chicken-like texture, as well as flavour.
There are no Rick-Stein-like restaurants in Scotland. Yet. But if the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar taps the business passing it on the A83 tourist highway, that should just be the beginning. North Berwick needs a quality version of the informal pair it now has; Dunbar, Eyemouth, Anstruther, Arbroath, Stonehaven, Fraserburgh, Portsoy, etc, etc should all have similar business. It provides jobs, economic growth and puts places on the map.
We have tourists traipsing all over Scotland to appreciate our scenery, history, golf, distilleries and so on. Why do we not come out of our shell and overjoy them with some of the finest seafood to be had in the world, instead of making them fly to Spain to enjoy it?