Big Fish Fight battle rages

Britain's celebrity chefs are united in their bid to get the nation eating a wider variety of fish.

Channel 4 viewers watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay championing the sustainable use of fish from the seas in last week's Big Fish Fight, a nightly succession of documentaries and recipe slots aimed at persuading shoppers who choose cod, haddock and tuna out of habit, or wariness of how other fish will cook and taste, to be more adventurous.

Sheffield fishmongers Christian and Danny Szurko were watching avidly.

But they reckon they are dab hands at it - and were already champions of the Big Fish Fight.

The brothers, former Sheffield College students who went on to become top chefs in the city, own the JH Mann wet fish shops in Hillsborough and Hunter's Bar and have always sourced lesser-known fish and shellfish to slap on their counters.

But getting their customers to try them is a tale of two cities.

"Since we took over the shops we've introduced a wide variety of more sustainable produce. In a bid to make people judge the fish by its look, rather than its name, we don't label fish on the counter - the information is all on the blackboard. We get some criticism for it but we won't stop. We want people to open their minds."

It's working at the Sharrowvale Road shop: "Customers are younger and very adventurous. They watch TV cookery shows and they want to experiment. They like to ask questions and then go home with a different fish to try out. We've got lots of recipes for customers and have even set up a recipe forum so they can pass on their own favourites."

Currently, half the fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back because they do not meet criteria and quotas set by Europe's common fisheries, or because they have no market value - shoppers will not buy them.

Dad Georgio Szerco, who gave up a career in upholstery to join his lads behind the counter, says he was screaming at the telly at scenes of dead fish being thrown back into the sea.

"It is such a waste," he says. "We know customers who would definitely buy it."

At Mann's, customers are snapping up octopus, cuttlefish, gurnard, red snapper, fresh mackerel, red mullet, seabass, mussels by the kilo and even razor clams.

Says Christian: "On Saturday, after the Big Fish Fight, they were coming in asking for fish they had been watching Jamie Oliver cook, so the series worked."

He's hoping Sheffield's older generation, who tend to use their Hillsborough shop, also watched and learned.

"They have conservative tastes. They have always wanted cod and they still want it. We are not giving up, though. Programmes like the Big Fish Fight are great news for the industry and will hopefully influence the older generation too.

"Many of the lesser-known varieties are often much cheaper than cod and haddock, though we would never want to stop them buying their favourites."

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