Sustainable Seashore: Orkney

Scottish seafood is world-renowned. Oysters, mussels, lobster and salmon are just a few products that appear on tables all across the globe. All around our coast, world-class catches land daily but we’re heading for an island well kent for its smoked salmon, Orkney, as a prime example of a fine Scottish product. We spoke to Big Brother 4 winner, Cameron Stout about his previous career with the Orkney Salmon Company and what it is about Orkney that makes the seafood so special.

Big Brother 4 winner Cameron StoutIn addition to the obvious natural assets that we enjoy here in Orkney, Orcadian firms have worked hard over the years to provide both products and customer service that are highly regarded.  To some it may sound like a bit of a cliché, however the passion that people here have for their home and their products is something that really has an impact on buyers from all round the world.  For far-flung customers, the notion that we and our premium produce have to make a journey by boat or plane even to reach the mainland of Scotland is quite a romantic one, so that, coupled with the clean environment, the strong tidal exchanges and the fact that we’re as far north as Alaska make it a very appealing source of fresh seafood.

In my time as Export Manager for the Orkney Salmon Company, I couldn’t tell you how many fish, fillets, lorry-loads or airfreight containers of salmon we moved around the globe. It was, quite rightly, renowned for its quality and over the years a wide range of key customers would accept nothing less. Probably the most impressive of our products internationally were the diver-caught scallops. Hand selected for size in the fast-flowing waters around Orkney, they outclassed everything else.

There are many factors that have affected the seafood industry over the past ten years. Public awareness of the perils of life at sea has certainly increased, partly through some informative and entertaining documentary series both here in the UK and overseas. Along with that increase in knowledge and understanding, there’s probably an improvement in people’s willingness to try new species or experiment with recipes – again, arguably, thanks to what we watch on the television. Outside of that, the demand for fresh and semi-processed fish for the prepared meals industry has seen substantial increases over recent years.

Orkney Lobster and hand-dived scallopsA great deal is being done in Orkney to ensure – or at least promote – sustainability, in fact Orkney was the first area in the UK to appoint a dedicated shellfish sustainability officer. Increases in minimum landed sizes for certain crab species, and lobster release and identification schemes are just two of the ways that the industry locally is demonstrating a commitment to the sustainability of both the species in question and the industry itself. One lobster re-stocking program saw the number of juveniles released increase from around 3,000 in 2001 to over twenty times that amount in under ten years. Another local company recently achieved a global award when it became the first crab processor to hold Marine Stewardship Council ‘Chain of Custody’ certification for brown crab.

Like just about everything, there are different views on aquaculture but, done properly, it can demonstrate a great many merits. In addition to wild species like lobster and crab already mentioned, there is no question about the worldwide demand for farmed fish species.

One brand that immediately comes to mind as a fine example is the Orkney Fishermen’s Society, based in Stromness – the company I mentioned as having been awarded the MSC’s Chain of Custody for brown crab. Established over sixty years ago, the business remains a co-operative and amongst the men who are part of the business there are hundreds of years of seafaring knowledge and skill.  The crab is processed by OFS in its BRC Global A accredited factory and is recognised and available widely.  It’s also been on my plate in the last couple of days and, as always, it was delicious!

Orkney hand-dived scallopsLocal fish and shellfish are available in just about every single eating and dining establishment in Orkney.  From the humble haddock to some of the most impressive tasting platters available anywhere, your appetite will be satisfied.

I was invited to go and cook aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia and I decided I would prepare Orkney diver-caught scallops as the starter.  There was only one place I could go for advice and that was The Foveran, overlooking Scapa Flow.  I was very grateful to chef-owner Paul Doull and chef Roddy Belford who passed on some of their expertise.  It’s their unique talents and menus that will have me – and hopefully you – booking not just a table, but a whole dining experience.



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