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
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.’