Cry­ing cock­les and mus­sels

Whether it’s pulled from the depths of a High­land sea loch or from the bleak, flat wash­wa­ter of East Anglia, we ex­port 70% of our de­li­cious Bri­tish shell­fish– Nick Ham­mond asks why

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HAUL­ING in a pot or creel and see­ing what lurks within never ceases to thrill. The wheedling cry of a gull, the salt lash of bowspray and the won­der of alien-limbed, deep-sea mon­sters lured to bait are as old as our is­land ex­is­tence it­self.

And no coun­try on Earth can claim the in­cred­i­ble breadth and qual­ity of shell­fish found along our shores, but, some­what jar­ringly, we ex­port a stag­ger­ing 70% of the shell­fish our fish­er­men risk their lives to catch.

Some 10,000 tons of whelks are landed here each year, for example, and 9,500 tons of these are shipped far across the world to Korea. French and Span­ish ar­tic­u­lated lor­ries queue at our bor­ders, wait­ing their turn to fill up with squid, lob­sters, mus­sels, crabs and clams that they’ll later sell back to hol­i­day­ing Bri­tons from their beach­side restau­rants. Our en­tire seafood catch as a nation is al­most 50% shell­fish—but why, then, is so much sent abroad?

‘We are tra­di­tion­ally very con­ser­va­tive in our buy­ing habits,’ says Rex Gold­smith, who runs The Chelsea Fish­mon­ger on Cale Street, Lon­don SW3. ‘By far our big­gest con­sump­tion of shell­fish is prawns. How­ever, we’ve been brought up on big prawns rather than the shrimp that mainly grow around our coast, so we end up im­port­ing them. My Euro­pean cus­tomers eat a wider va­ri­ety of shell­fish than we do—clams, lan­goustines, mus­sels and oys­ters are all reg­u­lar in­gre­di­ents in their cook­ing.’

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