The super-food in our seas

The super-food in our seas

By Robert Duthie, chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Processors’ Association

Swimming an abundance in the seas of our coasts are two ‘super-foods’ – herring and mackerel to be precise, and we are incredibly fortunate in Scotland to have such a valuable natural resource.

Both fish are rich in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, and a wide range of essential minerals and vitamins, including vitamin D, which helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain caused by a condition called osteomalacia in adults.

Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to a range of other health conditions, including heart disease and cancer (although it is  not known whether it is the low levels of the vitamin that have caused the disease).

Research suggests that half of adults in the UK don’t have adequate levels of vitamin D. The body can make its own vitamin D from sunlight which hits the skin, but in the UK it is only possible for our bodies to make sufficient vitamin D in this way in the summer because for the rest of the year the sun is too low in the sky.

Furthermore, for many people with their busy lifestyles (or indeed with the recent coronavirus restrictions) it is simply not possible to get outside every day for a sufficient length of time to get adequate sunshine exposure. One also needs to be careful to get the sunshine exposure balance right so as not to increase the risk of skin cancer.

This is where mackerel and herring come in because they are wonderful natural sources of vitamin D. With the North Sea herring season now in full swing, there is no better time than to add these fish to your shopping list where they make a great barbecue treat, or can be baked or served the traditional way coated in oatmeal and fried. Marinated herring also make a great accompaniment to summer salads, as does hot smoked mackerel or canned mackerel.

Fresh mackerel can be grilled, fried, or barbecued and is perfect for stuffing and oven-baking. It works well with strong, spicy flavours and a touch of acidity – for example, mackerel served with gooseberry sauce is a traditional dish.

Sustainability is a big issue with many consumers nowadays and both North East Atlantic mackerel and North Sea herring are caught from fisheries where the stocks are deemed by scientists to be in robust health. The fish are caught by modern trawlers where the nets don’t touch the seabed because of the midwater/surface swimming nature of mackerel and herring. There is virtually no bycatch or discards in the fishery because the shoals tend to be single species and comprise of similar-sized fish.

Scottish mackerel and herring fishermen, along with international partners, are committed to a sustainable future for the fishery and are involved in a range of scientific measures relating to data collection to help improve our knowledge of the mackerel and herring stocks.

The trawlers involved in the fishery feature the latest handling and refrigeration technologies to ensure the fish are quickly cooled after capture and landed in tip-top condition to our processing facilities in the north-east of Scotland and Shetland. These factories have invested heavily in modern equipment and innovated in value-adding processing and new product development. This has led to the development of a range of new canned mackerel and hot-smoked mackerel products that come in a variety of different flavoured sauces or coatings.

As our economy slowly gears back up into life after the coronavirus lockdown, mackerel and herring  represent excellent value-for-money fish, bringing extra punch to every pound spent on a typical food shop. Making these fish part of your shopping basket also helps to support coastal communities in Scotland where fishing, processing, and the support sectors that serve it, lie at the heart of the local economy.

With a fishery that is well managed, we should all be proud of the fact that Scotland has a rich and healthy resource around our coasts that will last for generations to come. It is a wonderful natural larder that helps to feed our nation, as well as the many other countries around the world where we export our mackerel and herring products to.