Eat more hake!

Delicious, versatile and hugely popular on the continent, Hake has just been named the UK’s most sustainable fish – yet many of us have never even tried it. So Mitch Tonks has joined in a campaign to persuade us to give it a go.

“Hake is easy to cook. It’s like any other kind of white fish: fry it, grill it, bake it, wrap it in foil with a few herbs and a splash of white wine and some olive oil. Brilliant!” So says hake lover Mitch Tonks in this video put together in partnership with the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), in a bid to get us to eat more of it.

Hake, a species closely related to cod and haddock, has long been a big favourite in Europe, particularly in Spain, where it’s known as merluza. In fact, the Spanish eat a whopping 6kg per person every year, accounting for about half of the hake eaten across the whole continent, snapping up much what’s caught in our waters too. Of the 12,000 tonnes caught by British fishermen last year, just 1.5 per cent was consumed in the UK.

With scientific research showing burgeoning stock levels of hake in UK waters, catch quota for the fish has been increased by 49 per cent in 2014, which means we’re much more likely to see it for sale – particularly as the Spanish market has reduced lately, due to the state of the economy.

The eat more hake campaign comes after new research by the NFFO revealed that half of us (52 per cent) eat fish at least once a week and one in five (19 per cent) eat it around three times a week – yet the majority of people rarely stray from the “seafood staples” of cod, haddock, salmon prawns and tuna. These five species make up around 85% of seafood sales.

Hake was named as the UK’s current sustainability champion fish after the NFFO conducted an evaluation of stock and catch data against a criteria of 10 industry sustainability markers. Hake, against very stiff competition from other species, currently meets more of the standards than any other species.

However, NFFO consumer research shows that even fish-eaters are still reluctant to try not only hake but also a number of other highly sustainable species. Around half of fish-eaters surveyed had never tried hake (53 per cent) or pollack (47 per cent), while two thirds (62 per cent) had never tried coley/saithe.

The top reasons cited for not eating hake include its retail price (30 per cent), the look of it (24 per cent) and poor availability in supermarkets (11 per cent). The increased supply should help reduce the price, while a combination of greater awareness and demand stoked by initiatives such as this campaign, plus the likelihood of MSC certification being granted to the Cornish gill-net hake fishery later this year, should hopefully encourage more supermarkets to stock it. So next time you’re in one, ask for it!
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5 reasons why hake is so sustainable

1. Over the last decade the fleets fishing for hake have been reduced relieving the pressure on the stocks
2. Hake stocks are now under a long term management plan which sets out the safe conditions for each stock
3. Hake stocks are currently considered to be at or above maximum sustainable yield, the gold standard in terms of sustainable fishing
4. Many fisheries are now under a certification scheme, the best known of which is the Marine Stewardship Council (for example, the Cornish Gill-net Hake Fishery is MSC accredited)
5. Hake is caught in highly selective nets with features that allow the unwanted catch to escape.

Photo credit: Laurence Hartwell