You may have heard of the French paradox coined by world medics to describe the fact that there is so much fat and dairy consumed in France yet their heart trouble rates are some of the lowest internationally. It does prove that we actually do need to eat animal fat however. There is also an Irish paradox and it’s to do with our fish consumption. Visitors here are astonished that as an island nation we are one of the smallest seafood consumers and the vast majority of what we do eat is actually imported. There is such a low demand for what we do catch and it is high quality but we won’t pay the sustainable prices that it deserves so it mostly gets sent abroad where it easily fetches top Euro.
To find out why this is we have to go back in time to how fish was forced on us by the church and with no refrigeration and bad transport by the time the seafood got to us on Fridays it was whiffy as hell so for generations it only got eaten once a week and we ve been hung up about it ever since. We were always going to be an island of meat eaters. Then we discovered fish and chips thanks to the English and Italians and then suddenly we were all over seafood, well that dish anyway. So anything in a crumb or batter worked also and so we ate cod to almost extinction ignoring the dozens of other wonderful specimens around our coast. Most of us had fish fingers as a first fish dinner including myself then graduating to smoked cod.
Finally while holidaying abroad we Irish realised these fishy suppers aren’t half bad so the salmon, oyster and mussel farms popped up at home and now we produce some of the best seafood. But it was way too late, the net had been cast and we were still a nation of shy fish lovers. It is starting to change now I think but commerce has slipped in while we dithered and it is cheaper now to import the frozen or farmed stuff to supermarkets from the four winds than it is to eat our own. Just take a look at the labels and packets and see where your seafood is coming from, North and South America, Asia, Africa even New Zealand.
It is a real shame that we have to eat this imported seafood and some of it is excellent I must say but then you have the air miles too never mind the dubious standards in far flung fish farming and worrying stock controls in other oceans. The irony that we have enough fish swimming in our waters to feed ourselves and export generously should not be lost. We probably need more fish shops or vans and for supermarkets to have fifty percent or more Irish seafood quotas on their counters.
The rules about landing for the small boats needs loosening up so that everyone living in coastal locations can buy directly off a day boat that goes out in the early morning and is back to sell its catch to queues on the quayside just like the rest of the world does but we are not allowed to. Now that is farm to fork, well sea to fork. Would you rather buy fish fresh from a trawler or frozen isle? No middle man or woman, the boat gets a fair price to make a living and you get the best food you can buy.
So maybe we might be able to change this Irish paradox if there was a big cultural and regulatory shift but as long as supermarkets can get stuff flown or shipped cheaper and sell it for less than we are prepared to pay for our own wonderful seafood and as long as regulations are in favour of the big guys and not the small operators then I am afraid the bad news is that it is here to stay. Finally the cost of fuel crisis means Irish boats currently cannot even afford to go out to sea now anyway. It really is a case of the one that got away then.