Dominic Jones at Jersey Crab Shack restaurant

The challenges and opportunities of sourcing local fish and seafood for restaurants in Jersey by Dominic Jones, one of the family owners of JPRestaurants

At JPRestaurants we have worked for many years to encourage better availability of Jersey caught seafood in our local wholesale market. Not only does it taste good because it’s fresher but it’s also more sustainable as it has to travel fewer miles from sea to fork and we have a smaller fleet that can use methods that impact less on our marine environment.

Many islanders and most visitors expect Jersey restaurants to be full of local fish and shellfish but the unpalatable truth is that presently most fish we buy locally in supermarkets, or eat in Jersey restaurants, is imported. The “Jersey” plaice you see on many menus is unlikely to be caught locally and for one of our most iconic and popular local fish dishes, crab, we have a demand that exceeds supply so local wholesalers import picked crab while we export much of our live crab catch overseas to Southern Europe.

There are many reasons for the situation in which we find ourselves and no one in particular is to blame. But we all have a part to play in addressing the situation.

Jersey has become dislocated from it rich maritime history and in particular the key part fishing once played in island life. This dislocation is challenging us as we focus on environmental issues related to the sea and disputes with our French fishing cousins. Unlike their forebears, many islanders have lost their intricate knowledge and appreciation for the sea that surrounds the island and the biodiversity it supports. In many ways we don’t value it as we used to. We are therefore delighted that Government, the Jersey Fishermen’s Association and the Jersey Evening Post amongst others are helping to highlight what has gone wrong and what we can do to fix it.

We believe that a central island fish processing plant or coop would help support a viable sustainable fishery in Jersey and put more local fish and shellfish on our tables. There are several challenges restricting the availability of local fish that this initiative would help address.

Local hospitality and food retail outlets are regulated and have excellent standards of food safety supported by our Environmental Health department. Many of these outlets have internal food safety policies that in practice prevent them from purchasing directly from individual fishermen who, like some local food processors, are unable to achieve the necessary food safety accreditation. This is often due to the costs involved or the lack of consistent supply and market to justify the investment required to reach the necessary standards. With Government support, a central coop could help address this challenge by achieving the necessary accreditation.

The local market can’t digest irregular and variable sized landings of fish which often leads fishermen to head to other markets in the UK or France to sell their fish. We need to look at preservation methods such as freezing, pasteurisation and cooking to manage lumpy supply and ensure a consistent supply of fish is available when for instance fish are scarce or it’s too rough to go to sea. This would be best done by a central fish processing plant. At JPRestaurants we would always recommend a fish frozen day caught local fish over imported fresh fish that may be 10 days old by the time in reaches the island. A state-of-the-art modern shellfish processing plant would also enable crab to be picked and preserved to satisfy local demand. Freshly cooked and pasteurised chancre and spider crab is an excellent product with a month’s shelf life. It’s available in local supermarkets and excellent, especially for cooked hot crab dishes, – do try it to see – but it doesn’t currently come from Jersey.

We need to work together to manage prices so we are not at whim of overseas markets such as Brixham and Granville. Fishermen need a good price to make it worth fishing and they need a local market that will always take their catch – which isn’t the case now. Due to our small market, this may result in the need to agree a minimum fish price (as we do with milk) and the coop would be under an obligation to always purchase the fish – subject to agreed quotas. In return fishermen would need to understand that if they are part of the coop, they won’t always be able to sell in France and the UK when prices are higher and we are left with no local supply.

Any intervention to the market by Government will need to be carefully planned so it doesn’t have unforeseen impacts on some market participants. If there are merchants or others that may be disadvantaged by a coop, then they also need to receive compensation or taken into account when planning the new approach.

Finally, all of us in the supply chain from fishermen to restaurants and retailers need to educate islanders on the value and origin of fish they eat and why they should pay a premium for locally sourced fish from a sustainable fishery that not only tastes better but helps to protect the marine environment. There needs to be clear and transparent labelling on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus so customers can be assured that they are getting a premium local product when they buy.

The Breton, Norman and Cornish fisheries have succeeded in addressing the challenges we face by coming together as a region and in certain areas Government, fishermen, processors and buyers agreeing a new way forward as a group. These neighbouring markets whilst also satisfying their local markets also have a surplus which with careful preservation they are able to export with added-value. Jersey could achieve this too.

*This article first appeared in the Jersey Evening Post in July 2021.