FISHING: Letter from chef Mitch Tonks

Celebrity chef Mitch Tonks
Celebrity chef Mitch Tonks

I’m writing to you in connection to an article that appeared in the Whitby Gazette on July 21st in which I was grossly misquoted.

The facts surrounding the article stem from comments on Twitter, where a Scottish fisherman wrongly implied that I don’t support UK fishermen.

The fisherman in question kindly offered to send me some fresh haddock to try and convince me that it was better than my current supply - the fish was sent to us along with some cod. Out of politeness I replied with a tweet saying the haddock was some of the best I’d tasted - not better than frozen or Norwegian - as incorrectly implied by the article.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to tell readers how we arrived at the sourcing policy we have across our group of restaurants, which is simply to buy the best available and most sustainable products. I live in the port of Brixham and have always actively supported and promoted our local fleet and seafood - which I believe to be some of the best in the world. Over the last 15 years I have bought a large amount of UK caught fish, and continue to do so. I am a regular at Brixham fish market and have great relationships with the local fishermen. Readers may therefore ask how I can also support Norwegian fishermen, both in terms of my purchasing habits but also via my involvement with the Norwegian Seafood Council.

Put simply, I recognise that in the UK we are – and always have been - a cod and haddock loving nation. As a result we have always imported more cod than the UK fleet catches in our own waters. We don’t have a big cod fishery here on the South Coast and when I opened my family seafood restaurant Rockfish I wanted to find the best, most consistent and sustainable supply I could.

My research led me to Norway where I met a group of fishermen and was able to see the quality of the fish and study the facts behind the Barents Sea fishery. I was highly impressed by the appearance, flavour and huge abundance of the fish and the amount of effort that had been put in over the years to ensure their fisheries are well-stocked for generations to come. Norway banned discards over 25 years ago and this is just one of a number of policies put in place to ensure their sustainability – resulting in the largest growing cod stock in the world.

I believe that for a sustainable future for seafood - and in particular huge volume species like cod & haddock - we need to buy from fisheries around the world that have healthy and well managed stocks. That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge what our UK fishermen are doing - they should be highly recognised for the initiatives taken in the recent years to create sustainable fisheries. In fact and as recently reported in Fishing News* the Demersal working group from North Sea Regional Advisory Council are now working with the Norwegian fisherman’s sales organisation Norges Fiskarlag to see what practises can be adopted by our own fisheries.

It is this spirit of collaboration that I promote and would like to see more of – at the end of the day we all want the same thing – people to eat more seafood! Additionally I want to ensure that what we provide in our restaurants is sustainable. I want to see British fishermen succeed and I believe that local, imported, farmed and wild need to exist exist side by side in order that we can enjoy our seafood now and forever.

Yours sincerely, Mitch Tonks

*Fishing News, 24.05.13