Nearly a quarter of British children don’t know that haddock is a fish, thinking instead that it is the name of a soccer player. This misconception is almost laughable until one realizes that we are talking about the potential seafood consumers of tomorrow.
Unfortunately the misconceptions don’t stop there. In a survey carried out by the U.K.’s second biggest supermarket, Asda, it was also revealed that nearly half of the children taking part had never heard of sea bass. In addition, one third of them were unable to recognize a cooked salmon fillet on a plate and thought it was a pork chop or beef steak instead.
One in ten of the children also thought that fish are grown in supermarkets or garden ponds. They were also confused about a traditional Good Friday meal believing it to be fish fingers or chocolate instead of a traditional fish dish.
Reports of the survey appearing in British newspapers didn’t reveal whether the adults questioned knew much about different types of fish. They probably didn’t fare much better than the children bearing in mind the ignorance of the British fisheries minister when he was asked what different species were during a visit to Billingsgate Fish Market in one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight television programs.
However, there were other worrying aspects about adults revealed in the survey. A quarter (24 percent) of young people aged 18-24 refuse to touch raw fish particularly with the head on. And adults generally think fish is a difficult dish to cook, coming behind pasta, chicken, potatoes, vegetables and rice.
For those who do cook fish, cod is the favorite variety, closely followed by salmon. However, trout, kippers and sea bass don’t feature on the domestic menu as most adults said they simply wouldn’t know how to start cooking them.
And even though cod may be the favorite fish to cook, a third of parents said they would rather buy cod and chips from a takeaway than make their own at home.
Although many British people claim to eat fish once a week, not surprisingly, 75 percent of them are failing to meet the government target of eating two fish meals a week according to the survey.
Asda talked to 2,000 children and adults so it was a reasonable sample and their views can be assumed to be representative of the population as a whole. Unfortunately these views, with perhaps the exception of children thinking haddock is a footballer, will come as no great surprise to those working in the U.K. seafood industry, although they will be unhappy to hear them.
Great Britain – England, Scotland and Wales – is an island and Northern Ireland, which is also part of the U.K., is, of course, also part of an island. Nowhere in the U.K. is more than 70 miles (133 km) from the sea and yet people living in the U.K. are extremely cautious when it comes to dealing with what is caught in the sea.
The refusal of young adults to even touch whole fish is not new and one could argue that they would not touch whole chickens or dead cows, sheep or pigs either. And why should they be expected to touch them? Those days are gone. The modern consumer expects that the protein content of meals should be presented just ready to cook.
Martin Jaffa of Callander McDowell picked up on this point in his recent reLAKSation newsletter. “The way forward must be to tailor fish products to current lifestyles.”
Seafood restaurateur Mitch Tonks also reiterated the same point when interviewed. “Busy Brits like convenience and fuss-free cooking so often opt for ready meals or easier proteins such as chicken, simply because they know more about how to cook it than they do fish.”
What must be extremely frustrating for those working in the British seafood industry is that recipes and cooking methods for fish are readily available. And celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein have fronted successful seafood cooking programs on mainstream television.
Unfortunately the British public consists of those who readily eat fish and enjoy it, and those who almost seem scared to try it, particularly at home. The key for the industry is to convert the “non-believers” into “believers.” Not an easy task.