How To Eat Fish More Sustainably

Living “sustainably” and being “ethical” is not just a trend. It’s a necessity. Attribute our collective growing awareness over the past few years to Cowspiracy, to Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s vegan stage, or just to the fact that we’re finally coming around to how wasteful we are as people, slowly robbing this planet of its natural resources.
Whatever the reason, it’s hard to know where to turn in your journey to live less wastefully. Or worse, where even to start. Many of us have already cut down on our meat consumption but did you know that almonds, which currently sit on the highest tier of hallowed food blogger foods, are eco-problematic? It takes over five litres of water just to grow one teeny little almond. Oh, and avocados? They have been used as a tool of war by Mexican drug cartels keen to cash in on America’s lust for them.
Fishing is a hugely wasteful food industry. On one hand, it is one of the most talked-about areas when it comes to “sustainability” but, on the other, overfishing is still a huge problem. It has left some parts of the ocean completely barren, and demand for certain fish is putting other fish and sea-dwelling mammals at risk of death. Currently, an average of 20% of fish caught are binned because they're not economical or desirable.
Two people who are seeking to change that are Joe Roberts and George Notley, who are behind a new restaurant in London’s Islington called Trawler Trash. The concept is simple: executive chef George creates a menu that uses the fish which are the least in-demand from the British public. Fish which is usually wasted, thrown back into the sea dead, or left to rot is turned into fish and chips, fish pies, brunch, pasta dishes and more.
We speak to them about the problems we're facing with our fish consumption at the moment and what we can do to change it.
Explain to me what "bycatch" is, guys.
Bycatch is a result of such a high demand of your favourite species. In the UK our favourites are cod and haddock. When folks go out and catch their quota of cod and haddock they obviously catch a load of other fish at the same time through a very un-selective method of fishing. A lot of it is actually thrown back dead in the sea by bigger trawlers because they don’t want to waste space that could be used for more expensive fish, like cod and haddock. What we’re doing [at Trawler Trash] is trying to create a demand and a use for those fish that are thrown back because then they’ll be brought back to shore and used in the correct way as opposed to just being wasted or used as cat food.
Which fish are the "unpopular" ones?
At the moment we’ve got a lot of coley, which is a member of the cod family. The colour is slightly greyer on the flesh than cod, which puts people off. Taste-wise though, I’d challenge anyone when it’s deep-fried and battered to tell the difference between the two. Also, gurnard, hake. Also sardines, or "pilchards" as they used to be known. And mackerel.
How do I know if a fish is sustainable?
There’s a general rule with sustainable fish – the smaller it is, the more sustainable it is. Sustainable fish tend to be smaller, hardier species which develop to adulthood a lot quicker than, say, a cod, which might be 30 years old. Imagine if you rip that out of the sea? If you take mackerel, though, that replenishes in a year.
Why have some fish become unpopular?
I think supermarkets are to blame. Many of the non-Westernised countries still live off their resources because they need to and that means they’re only using what’s there and what's needed. They’re not searching for a certain fish. One thing we notice within our research is that today’s generation are desensitised towards the preparation of fish, to how it looks, if it’s a bit smelly or unsightly sometimes. We grew up with supermarkets, our parents and grandparents didn’t.
How can we make more of a difference in our everyday lives?
Obviously support your local fishmonger, but I understand that this isn’t achievable on a daily basis. It’s actually quite rare in London these days [to find a fishmonger]. But you can still support. Your hake, your mackerel and your gurnard is still in the big supermarkets, they just don’t sell a huge amount of it. The more of it that flies off the shelves, the more they’ll put on the shelves.
What's another popular fish we're eating too much of?
Farmed salmon is becoming a huge thing. This is just the industry trying to cater for the demand as opposed to challenging the customer. The industry has always supported what people want as opposed to challenging what they want.
What's been the reaction so far to your dishes using the so-called "unpopular" fishes?
I was pleasantly surprised with the coley in the fish and chips and just how well it worked. And also the gurnard is just flying out of the door, it tastes amazing. It’s just like a big red mullet, it's just a bit bigger and a bit meatier.

Trawler Trash's Mackerel Escabeche

4 Mackerel Fillets, pin boned
2 Medium Carrots
1 Red Onion
1 Bay Leaf
4 Sprigs of thyme
1 Garlic Cloves
60ml Olive Oil
2 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
1. Lightly pan fry the mackerel fillets in a large non-stick frying pan until the skin is crispy and the fillets are nearly cooked through
2. Set the fillets aside on a tray, allowing for a small amount of space between the fillets
3. In a large heavy bottom pan gently heat the olive oil and add the carrots, red onion, bay leaf, garlic and thyme, cooking on a low heat until the vegetables have softened.
4. Remove from the heat and add the red wine vinegar and mix, allow to cool before adding the vegetables to the tray of mackerel.
5. Allow to marinate for at least 2 hours before serving
Trawler Trash, 205 Upper Street, London, N1 1RQ

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