Chefs are stepping up to support UK shellfish suppliers as a ban on live exports to the European Union (EU) threatens the industry's future.
Restaurateurs offering takeaway and delivery services are partnering with fishermen and distributors whose trade has been hit by both coronavirus and Brexit.
Since 1 January wild mussels, oysters, clams, cockles and scallops caught in certain UK waters must undergo a purifying process before they can be sent to the EU at a huge cost to suppliers.
The shellfish were previously processed on the continent before being sent to supermarkets or restaurants, but since the UK left the trading bloc shellfish from Class B waters - the majority of exports - are subject to third-country safety rules.
Politics Home reported that the EU said the ban was indefinite, despite the UK government initially telling fishers it would only last until spring. The government has said it will continue to raise the issue with the EU.
Jack Stein, chef director across the Rick Stein Restaurant Group, is now purchasing 100kg lobster a week from Welsh supplier Syren Shellfish after seeing a news report that a lorry load of its shellfish was stuck at Portsmouth for 24 hours.
The Cornwall-based group is selling Stein's at Home menu boxes but has struggled to find enough seafood to meet demand. It is also looking to buy crabs, prawns and other fish from Syren going forwards.
"I messaged [Syren] on Facebook and said we'll take whatever you've got because we need it, if you've got a shipment stuck at a port call us anytime," Stein told The Caterer.
"We're a seafood restaurant and there are times in the year when we cannot get enough product.
"There are days when lobsters and crab aren't on the menu. If the weather's bad in Cornwall we often have to get them from Scotland.
"I'd much rather be part of the EU than be having these conversations but having more domestic supplies [of shellfish] might be a silver lining to the nightmare that is Brexit."
Chef Stevie Parle has been supporting fisherman by selling Scottish langoustines for home delivery through his Joy Portobello shop in London. After putting a call-out on Twitter he said thousands had been sold and the supplier had "never had such a big order".
Online produce delivery site Local and Independent is helping British fisherman sell their catch directly to the public through its platform. It is waiving commission on all sales for the first three months as part of a wider bid to encourage consumers to buy shellfish.
Craig Allen, director of Local and Independent, said: "One of the reasons we set up was to help out fishermen and farmers in these changing times. We also think the EU are playing games with our fishing industry and this will make life harder for British fishermen and encourage more European fishermen to take advantage of this change, again having an immediate knock on effect on our industry."
Increased local supply
Much of the UK's shellfish is exported internationally, but Stein hopes there can be a shift to more people buying sustainable local varieties.
"You could tell when the Brexit deal was struck how important fishing was to Europe. They love fish. The Brits are learning to love it, and chefs like Nathan Outlaw have done a lot to help people appreciate it. But the large middle ground of fish purchasing in the UK is still centred around cod, haddock and salmon.
"I want our fishermen to get as much demand as possible, but part of Brexit is going to be about buying more British. This is one way we can help as a restaurant company."
Stein said he had noticed a rise in interest in more ‘premium' British seafood at his restaurants during their brief reopening period in 2020.
"Last summer you could tell there was a real appetite from customers to try things like lobster, turbot and Dover sole, stuff that is usually on the export list. International holidays were cancelled and people were using their disposable income differently.
"Covid-19 has decimated our industry but there have got to be ways we can pivot and adjust our demand. We've got the best shellfish in the world in this country and, with such an abundance of things like sustainably caught lobsters and crabs, getting people to buy more British produce could be a positive story to come out of all this."
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