Falfish Ltd is sole supplier of fresh fish to Tesco. One of their fishermen, Sam Lambourn, provides Tesco with the freshest, Marine Stewardship Council-accredited (MSC) Cornish sardines. Here, Real Food joins Sam and crew on a fishing trip…
I've been a fisherman since 1976. I used to fish for cod and pollack using gill nets, which involved travelling 20–40 miles out to sea. There were thousands of sardines in the bay, but we didn’t have the right equipment to bring them in.
So I bought the right kind of boat and a net and joined forces with Falfish, who got the necessary additional machinery and invested in a production line, where the fish could be properly graded
My boat was custom-built for sardine fishing. It has a ring net that we set around a school of fish, close it underneath, and then hopefully recover it to find it filled with fish. We are MSC-accredited, which means we fish in a sustainble way.
Sardines are now hugely popular. A few years ago, we were landing an annual catch of just 100 tonnes. Today, the market supports around several thousand tonnes, and they’re all caught in British waters.
Celebrity chefs have been kind to us. It’s taken some time, but sardines are back on the menu in some of the UK’s top restaurants. Chefs are enthusiastic about cooking sardines and talking about them. This endorsement has been great for the British fishing industry.
We use sonar equipment to track them down. The schools appear on our screen as a little red blob, so we can monitor them constantly to prepare for the catch. We fish in the dark. Sardines swim up to the surface at night to feed, so it’s the ideal time to catch them. They are easily spooked, so we have to make sure all the lights are off.
We generally fish within six miles of the shore. This means we don’t have to burn loads of fuel just to get out and back, which is kinder to the environment.
We go out with a crew of three and we all have an important job to do. I’m responsible for finding the fish and pinpointing the right moment to set the net. My colleagues Barry and Will are in charge of ensuring that all our gear is working.
We usually set off an hour before dusk. Weather permitting, we generally fish from Sunday night through to Thursday and then have a couple of days off.
Recovering the net requires all hands on deck. The fish are transferred to large insulated bins filled with ice, where they stay until we reach the quay.
Sardines are fragile fish and we handle them carefully to ensure they arrive in top condition.
The sign of a good sardine is freshness. Choose fish with bright sparkly eyes and shiny skin and you won’t be disappointed.
For many, sardines conjure up memories of lovely holidays. People love to eat them on the beach in Portugal but tend to forget about them when they return. I think they’re great for barbecues, plus they’re so affordable, too.
Fishing is a way of life. There’s something special about the directness of catching food that
I love, plus there’ll always be a demand for fish. I think it’s terrific.
Watch the full video here
As featured in the Real Food Magazine August/September 2013.