Getting together to put fresh fish on the table

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Emily Moore learns about a collaboration between Channel Islands Coop and FishWise which aims to support the local fishing industry

FOR many Islanders, nothing epitomises summer more than al-fresco dining and days spent either on the beach or relaxing in the garden.

For those whose love of the sea extends to its food offerings, those outdoor meals often revolve around fresh fish grilled on the barbecue or a delicious fruits de mer, accompanied by a crisp glass (or two) of wine.

While shopping for such a menu may previously have necessitated a special trip to a fishmonger, a recent collaboration between Channel Islands Coop and FishWise means that fresh, locally caught seafood is now available from both the St Helier and St Peter Grand Marché stores.

Although the name FishWise may still be relatively new, its founders, Peter and Maria Tarrant, will be familiar to many Islanders who have bought fish from the Ugly Oyster seafood trailer at Homefields.

As sales from this trailer dropped after Covid when customers returned to shopping from supermarkets again, the husband-and-wife team founded FishWise in January 2023, combining forces with wholesaler and exporter Battricks Seafoods.

‘FishWise combines elements of both La Crete – which operated the Ugly Oyster – and Battricks, with the retail arm remaining at Homefields and expanding into the Coop, and the wholesale and export operations continuing at the harbour facility,’ explained Peter.

While this new collaboration has a strong focus on supporting local fishermen – as the array of crabs, lobsters, oysters, whelks, hand-dived scallops and wet fish – on the counter testifies, the couple also source a range of seafood from non-Island-based suppliers to ensure that residents have a comprehensive choice of products.

‘Critically, whether our seafood comes from local or overseas suppliers, our focus is on its traceability and provenance,’ explained Maria. ‘The “Wise” part of our name emphasises our commitment to sourcing our seafood responsibly, something which is important not just in terms of ensuring quality but also for conserving future supplies.’

Because many commercially exploited stocks are under pressure from a wide range of challenges including fishing activity and climate change, Peter says this responsible approach is more important than ever.

CoOp Grand Marche at St Peter. Fish counter. Peter Tarrant, director of FishWise which is providing the fish service in store Picture: ROB CURRIE. (35602404)

‘Our aim is to move to a situation whereby as many of our seafood products as possible are sourced from an accredited, or responsibly managed, source. Jersey already has a prime example of that with it being part of the only lobster fishery in Europe with MSC accreditation. Nevertheless, we are aware that high costs and decreasing catch levels, driven by declining stocks, are impacting local fishermen and forcing some of them out of the industry,’ he said. ‘However, given the dynamic nature of marine ecosystems, it is highly likely that new opportunities may arise, so our fishing fleet needs to be able to adapt and take advantage of such scenarios. We are increasingly seeing more exotic species here, including the return of octopus. Whether these, and others, are classified as being native to our waters or not, such developments could provide a much-needed boost for our fleet.

‘While there is a clear need for measures to protect and enhance existing stock levels, we should also recognise that, in the short term, these are likely to impact fishermen’s income, putting the long-term future of one of Jersey’s oldest industries under threat.’

It is an industry which Peter and Maria are committed not only to supporting through FishWise but one which they believe should be viewed as a positive and integral part of the wider blue economy.

Having worked as a consultant for governments and organisations around the world until Covid brought an abrupt end to travel, Peter has seen many examples from which he believes Jersey could learn.

‘I was working in countries as far afield as Chile, Newfoundland, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Malaysia, some of which have some great examples of how aquaculture can not only diversify a country’s economy but also contribute to nutritious food supplies,’ he said. ‘It is worth noting that seafood is the most traded food commodity, with aquatic products having a global export value equal to the combined ones for beef, lamb, chicken and other meats. This backdrop highlights the conundrum of striking a balance between environmental issues and economic benefits.

‘More recently, I’ve worked with Seafish, the public body supporting the seafood industry in the UK, as well as undertaking projects in Scotland for the Crown Estates looking at opportunities for expanding shellfish farming and associated aspects of work related to marine spatial planning and the regulatory framework,’ he added.

Before moving to Jersey, where Peter grew up, the couple had pioneered the farming of bass, bream and marine phytoplankton in the Mediterranean and then cod in Scotland.

With that background, they both believe that fish farming, both on land and in the marine environment, has ‘unfulfilled potential’ for the Island.

‘There is definite merit in looking to expand local aquaculture activities,’ he said. ‘At the moment, Jersey is focused upon farming oysters but there are significant opportunities to develop this further by expanding the range of species and systems as well as by looking at land and sea-based locations.

‘For example, other jurisdictions are supporting the development of seaweed cultivation, which is a rising star in the blue-foods economy. Cultivating species such as this, in addition to some types of shellfish such as oysters, mussels and clams, doesn’t only result in a cash crop, but also provides a lot of benefits to the ecosystem.’

While recognising the potential for such bigger-picture projects, Peter and Maria are also focused on developing FishWise’s offerings, with short-term plans including the creation of more seafood dishes.

‘We already use locally caught seafood to make coquilles St Jacques, lobster thermidors and other value-added products such as seafood platters, as well as offering our own hand-picked crab meat.

‘Thanks to our experienced team of fishmongers, crab pickers and chefs, these are available in the Coop stores, online and at our seafood trailer,’ said Maria.

‘We are excited about this collaboration with the Coop which will make it as easy and convenient as possible for Islanders and tourists alike to experience the amazing quality of local seafood.’

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