Tom Aikens on sustainable fishing

Looking back over the summer, it seems like we got a raw deal. The whole month of July was a complete washout, with flash floods throughout the UK and the rest of Europe basking in a heat wave of 40˚C plus. I visited a Lincolnshire potato farmer in July and he doesn’t know how much of his potato crop he’ll be able to harvest.

The news seems to be full of how we can save the planet and how it’s cool to be Green which is great, but I hope people are doing it for the right reasons. It scares me at what a rapid pace things happen it all has to be instant, at a click of a button. We’re too impatient and want things now, rather than allowing things to develop naturally and as nature intended. We take as much as we can without thinking about the consequences of what might happen, be it ripping down rainforests looking for fossil fuels, polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, or plundering sealife to the edge of extinction. Since January, I’ve been researching all about fish for Tom’s Place, my fish-and-chip shop. I’ve been to Newlyn in Cornwall several times to meet fisherman and have been out to sea with them to work on the boats it’s a very difficult life indeed.

Sadly, in some parts of the coast around the UK, the fishing industry has suffered a slow death through over-fishing and incorrect information about quotas and stock levels of fish. It’s happened all round the world where there was once a seemingly never-ending supply of fish that’s now almost gone from the Grand Banks of Canada to Western Africa, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Japan and the North Sea. The list goes on. You could ask why we don’t stop fishing in some parts of the world to let the stocks replenish themselves, but the answer isn’t that simple. It’s down to many things, but the main cause will be greed. The case of tuna is particularly shocking. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were wiped out in the next 15 to 20 years in the wild, but then there will, of course, be farmed stocks.

I would love to educate my customers about the amazing fish available besides the usual cod, haddock and plaice, which are on the endangered list, at risk of being over-fished.

At Tom’s Place, all the fish and chips will be cooked in the traditional beef dripping, or, for the more health conscious, rape-seed oil. All the fish will come direct from Newlyn from a group of fishermen that I’ve got together, who all fish in the correct manner and really respect what they catch. I’ll be using fish that will change with the seasons, and offering different varieties that are more sustainable and even tastier, such as pollock, ling, gurnard, megrim sole and ray. Ray is in the same family as skate and tastes amazing. Pollock and ling are in the same family as cod, and the megrim sole is, of course, related to the dover and lemon sole. It’s not used much at all in this country and most of the time is exported to France and Spain, as they seem to appreciate it more than we do, which is our loss. They are all extremely delicious types of fish and all fry and cook really well (see this month’s recipe).

I’ve even made a film just for the shop which will show where I get my fish from, what’s it like to be a fisherman, and all the other people who are involved in the fishing industry, from the fisheries officer to the scientists and some of the environmentalists as well. I hope it’ll help my customers to understand the trouble that all these people go to to get this great fish to me and then to you. As you can imagine, I’m very excited about the shop’s opening at the end of this month.

Find out what’s cooking at Tom’s restaurants at

Perfect fish and chips