In my recent post on dogfish, I briefly touched on the terms “trash fish” and “underutilized species.” Historically as well as today, most consumers are wary of new seafood products and gravitate to the familiar. From halibut to monkfish it is shocking to look with hindsight at all the fish that were caught only to be snubbed at the fish market. Both fishermen and fish dealers know that many of these fish are good to eat and are plentiful, the problem is getting people to buy them.
One method used for many years is to rebrand seafood with a new, catchier name to entice the consumer. Patagonian toothfish, Acadian redfish and slimehead magically become Chilean sea bass, ocean perch and orange roughy when they hit the market. What’s in a name? When it comes to seafood marketing, quite a lot.
Terms like “bass” “perch” or “cod” are familiar to the public and so it is common to use these terms in rebranding fish. Sometimes these rebranded fish have a taste similar to a “cod” or “bass” but are not related species. Other times it is not the taste but the color or texture that is being compared to common species. Pacific Dover sole looks somewhat similar to true Dover sole and sells much better under that name than its other moniker: slime sole.
A fish you may know well can start being sold under a different name, or if traveling, a local name. As a kid on the wharves some of the tuna fishermen would give me grilled or smoked pieces of something called dolphin, by my late teens I started seeing the same fish on menus but now called mahi mahi. I guess the seafood industry realized consumers don’t want to eat a fish with the same name as an intelligent marine mammal.
Unlike the cases of seafood fraud that I’ve posted about, this isn’t about using one fish and claiming it’s another. This is about getting people to try a new fish in the market by making the name more consumer friendly. There is nothing fraudulent about this, so long as the fish seller is not passing it off as something else. And if a simple name change can get the fish-eating public to eat lesser-known fish, it’s good for everyone. It takes the pressure off overfished or rebuilding stocks, it allows the fishermen to make a living by catching abundant species with larger catch quotas and consumers get to try something new, delicious and often at a lower price than the usual fish selections.
Yes, unfortunately it’s a common problem in many other countries too. Most of people want only few species, usually the easier to cook and eat, especially the perfectly boneless fillets.
For example in Italy, my country, if you go to the fish markets by the sea you can find a lot of different fish because local people know how to clean and cook those fish, but if you go in the cities and in places more far from the sea you can find much less fish, mostly tuna, swordfish, sea bream, salmons, sea bass and this kind of fish easier to cook and clean. And yes, for example african Nile perch labelled often just as “perch”, creating a misunderstanding with the better and more expensive local European perch. In Hungary I can notice this attitude even more often.
I think we should teach people how to clean and how to cook all the fish, then probably they wouldn’t be “afraid” about trying something else than usual. Otherwise they’ll choose always the easy options.
I always want to know exactly what I buy, and I always think that it should be a normal and automatic behavior, but unfortunately it’s not really a common attitude.
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Those of us who come from fishing backgrounds are also not immune to this. I know few if any, local fishermen that willingly eat dogfish, not matter what you name it.
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