Last Updated on Thursday, 16 September, 2021 at 3:51 pm by Andre Camilleri
Recently some friends of mine came to visit Malta; we walked along the seafront of a well-known fishing village, perusing the menus for a spot of lunch. “Is the fish fresh?” my friend asked a restauranteur. “It’s fresh frozen”, came the reply. Not once, but multiple times, until we found an eatery serving up fresh fish of the day. This came as a great surprise to my friend- after all, we are a Mediterranean island surrounded by sea, colourful fishing boats and plenty of fish, why was it so difficult to find fresh fish?. While restaurants may have reasons for not stocking fresh fish, this may be an interesting angle to explore why we aren’t shouting out loud for it. Perhaps the issues go far deeper than demand and supply.
It’s interesting to note a recent Eurobarometer survey last week found the Maltese are less likely to eat fish at home than citizens of most other European Union countries, despite being a small Mediterranean island. According to the survey findings, 57% of Maltese said they ate fish at home at least once a month, compared to the European average of 64%. A closer look at the numbers reveals that a quarter of Maltese eats fish at home at least once a week. In addition, 32% said they had fish between one and three times a month, while 19% said less than once a month. A relatively large percentage, 19%, said they never had fish, compared to the European average of 11%.
Furthermore, the survey identified that eating fish correlated with socioeconomic status, with those who said they often struggled to pay bills reporting the lowest fish consumption rates. Fish appears to be considered a luxury food item for many and not a weekly staple due to its high costs. The question remains how can we make fresh local fish affordable and accessible to all?
Back in 2015, JD Farrugia, an activist promoting sustainable fishing, told The Malta Independent in an interview that salmon is the most popular fish in Malta. He was referring to data which the ENGO he forms part of, Fish4tomorrow, collected that year. “For me, this is a culinary tragedy,” he said. “Salmon is not a local fish, yet it is the one we tend to eat the most.” Salmon is usually imported from Northern European countries and will often be farmed in ways not considered sustainable. So why are we not proud to eat our local fish? Perhaps the whole concept needs a local image refresh, bearing in mind adherence to EU fishing quotas and ending overfishing. It is vital to save fish stocks the ecosystems and, at the same time, safeguard the livelihood of people who depend on fishing. Moreover, local traditions and culture related to fishing must be preserved.
Fish is big business in Malta, and it has the potential to be even bigger. Therefore, promoting sustainable practices locally and the sea to plate concept and its numerous benefits, not to mention affordability, are all key factors required if we are to change these worrying statistics.