Inedible fish are there to be eaten, says Galway chef

Michael O’Meara believes ban on discarding whitefish species is scope for new recipes

Michael O’Meara believes certain   fish  which are currently  discarded can and should be eaten

Michael O’Meara believes certain fish which are currently discarded can and should be eaten

 

Moon jellyfish, rabbit fish, grenadier or “rat tail” and wolf eel don’t look particularly tasty and tend to get tossed overboard when netted at sea.

However, as a discard ban is extended to certain whitefish species in European waters, a Galway-based chef believes we should be cultivating palates for catches we don’t normally eat.

Catches of prawns, whiting,haddock and hake will be subject from January 1st to the extended ban on discards, which is being phased in by the European Commission.

The phased-in measure is a direct outcome of a campaign spearheaded by British chef and food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall back in 2011, highlighting the wasteful practice where skippers were forced to throw edible fish back into the ocean under the EU’s quota regime.

Chef Michael O’Meara is practical enough to know that skippers would need to be “towing trailers behind them” if they were to land everything, and would be out of business very soon.

However, he believes that Ireland’s €1 billion fishing industry could be worth four times that if a concerted effort was made to develop markets for more of the so-called “inedible” species.

“There is nothing we can’t eat from the sea, although we wouldn’t be targeting sensitive species like dolphins and whales,”Mr O’Meara said.

New book

To prove this, he has published a book of recipes for over 110 species of fish and shellfish, representing a “small sample” of the biodiversity in Irish waters, which are among the largest and most biologically rich in Europe.

Wolf or “devil” fish with wood sorrel, grenadier or “rat’s tails” with spring vegetables and pickled or stir-fried moon jellyfish are among the dishes in the Sea Gastronomy:Fish and Shellfish of the North Atlantic.

Mr O’Meara recalls how fishmongers Gannet Fish began selling the greater fork-beard, nicknamed “Sweaty Betty”, at the Saturday Galway market.

“I decided to give it a go, and it outsold all of the traditional species like cod and monkfish, on the first night I cooked it,” he said. “So when the discard ban started to come in, it got me thinking.”

Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) marine biologist Dr Peter Tyndall said new data from the European Commission recorded 18 times more species now being fished at safe biological limits than 12 years ago.

The phased-in discard ban and other measures under the new Common Fisheries Policy will further improve the health of European stocks, Dr Tyndall says.

Under the new system, introduced a year ago for pelagic (mackerel/herring) vessels, skippers have to land all of their catch among four specified whitefish species. Undersized fish will be sent for fish meal and other indirect uses.

The so-called “landing obligation” includes certain allowances, such as a “de minimis” rule or “permitted level of discarding” of 7 per cent of catches.

BIM, the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency, the Marine Institute and Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have been working with vessel owners on “gear selectivity”.

This allows for reductions in undersized catches by increasing mesh size in the “cod-end” of nets, and using separator and square mesh panels in gear.

Fishing industry organisations have been concerned that quotas will be exhausted early in the season if all targeted fish has to be landed.

During the recent annual catch negotiations in Brussels, extra allowances of species like prawns - one of the most valuable fisheries in the Irish fleet - were allocated to allow for this.