It's time to support the producers of Somerset; eat eel and hake

Christmas is now a distant memory and the freak wet and windy conditions that have prevailed over the past 3 months seem to have finally abated. Although no longer in the news thousands of flooded home owners are still trying to get their lives back together. It particularly affects you when it’s someone you know, and I vividly remember back in January the Telegraph featuring Julian Temperley of The Somerset Cider Brandy Company photographed in flood water up to his knees in the family home and with 50 acres of orchard already under 6ft of flood water. Little did he know then that two giant spring tides and another month of rain would bring further havoc and pain (Somerset floods: this is a man-made disaster - Telegraph). It hasn’t been just the Somerset Levels. Closer to home here in Gloucestershire we know only too well that living close to a flood plain will always be challenging when exposed to long period of extreme weather as the towns of Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Worcester know only too well. What really started as a flooding story that only affected Somerset in the weeks before Christmas really became a political hot potato once the flooding moved down the M4 corridor and started affecting homes nearer London in February. The clear up operations are already over for most but for the worst affected and most of those are on the Somerset Levels, I hope life returns to normal as soon as possible. Somerset has some of the country’s greatest food and drink producers and I hope that those in the food service industry make a special effort to seek out suppliers on the Somerset Levels to help get the South West back on its feet.

The one thing that all this rain has bought is unusually mild weather. This has meant warmer river temperatures which have provided perfect conditions for the elver fishing season. Not only have conditions been perfect but elvers have been arriving in numbers not seen for 20 years. The return in numbers has been mirrored in fisheries in France also. Massive catches over the last few weeks has resulted in a fall in price to fishermen and actually as of last Friday the elver station closed as it could not accommodate any more fish. The majority of purchasers of these fish today are governments or conservation bodies running restocking projects across Europe. As a result of this huge catch increase it means that we have a small but increased dead by catch. On average this is usually less than 1% and in the past these have been sold frozen to the Spanish market who have an elver eating culture, but with fishermen now taking a reduction in price we are now offering some of the dead frozen to restaurant customers. It’s important that people understand that 95% of elvers stuck in our river tidal system will die within 3 months of their arrival unless we fish them and give them a lift into conditions where they can thrive. We had the opportunity of addressing the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts at their last meeting where Richard spoke and gave an insight into the efforts we are making to support the eel and a sustainable eel fishery.

Last week in London I happened to chance upon celebrity chef and restaurateur Mitch Tonks who, with some trawlermen and Barrie Deas of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, was making a short video piece about the sustainable merits of hake. Hake fishing I learnt is very species specific and with the discards ban coming into force in 2016 this is definitely a species we will see more of. It’s a firm, meaty fish and something we actually promote in the shop as an alternative to cod. What I did find interesting through talking to Barrie Deas was some of the facts surrounding discards.

  • Over 40% of fish caught in the North Sea is discarded
  • 80% of those fish are 2 species (plaice and dabs)
  • 60% of the plaice estimated to survive

I thought it was quite interesting anyway.

Barrie was also keen to point out that the end to discards will now mean that species quotas and how the system is to operate will be the next challenge for the industry.

I had the chance of speaking with Julian Temperley this morning and he assured me that Somerset is open for business. They are still waiting for the government to confirm that they will undertake making funds available for dredging of the River Parret but Julian, sanguine as ever, believes they have more chance if they requested funds for maintenance of the Parret drain.