VEGA News Item

This Fish is Not for Coarse Angling - 11/01/2008
Come June Jimmie and Penny Hepburn expect to sell 2000 carp from the 17 spring-fed ponds at their home in Devon...
Come June Jimmie and Penny Hepburn expect to sell 2000 carp from the 17 spring-fed ponds at their home in Devon. They expect to sell a plate-sized fish for £5 and claim an interest from owners of pubs, restaurants, and a chain of popular wine bars in London. However, “the enterprise could be at risk if local predators have their own way” (these being those pesky non-human competitors, of course), “when otters fancy a feed, they head down to the Hepburn’s ponds. There are also fish-eating birds, so the ponds are netted – though the kingfishers scissor a way through”, reports the Guardian 07/01/08).

Jimmie believes that he would earn much more if he used his ponds for angling or to rear ornamental fish. “It seems ridiculous that we put less value on fish reared for food than fish reared for sport. It shows the mess we’ve got ourselves in”, he says. The Hepburns foresee changed attitudes, owing to “environmental problems… They imagine a time when people will get rid of the goldfish from their ponds and replace them with carp for food. After all, a few years ago many people weren’t into their vegetable patches. Now growing vegetables again is trendy”, says Jimmie. “Remember, 10 or 15 years ago almost nobody ate sushi in the UK. Now it’s everywhere”, he adds.

Jimmie explains his enterprise very well. “There’s great interest in the fish. The truth is that we have forgotten to eat fish like carp. In medieval times they were very popular. Now they are usually grown to huge proportions for anglers who take a photo of them and throw them back. Hardly anyone thinks of them as food”. Many monasteries and other large cultivated inland areas and villages would have fishponds for more than ornamental purposes. The increase now in these sea-girt islands is driven by immigrants from Eastern Europe, “who regard carp as a treat. Especially at Christmas”, Jimmie explains. He describes the products of his ponds as organic.

The Hepburns plead the environmental cause. Increasing strain on popular fish such as cod, haddock and salmon is forcing a change in tastes. Jimmie, who once ran a salmon farm in Scotland, says: “We’ve got to get back to eating food like this for the benefit of the planet”.

In contrast to farmed salmon and trout the Hepburns’ carp get at least half their food from the ponds. The couple claim that the conditions are assured for the growth of algae and other organisms that the fish thrive on. Their diet is supplemented with grain bought from local farmers and scraps from the kitchen, rather than with pelleted feed. “Carp are pretty much the chickens of the fish world” say the Hepburns. Penny looks after the business’s mealworm farm. She keeps a tank full of flour beetles, whose eggs she transfers to wine-boxes containing the mealworms and apples from the farm’s orchard. She feeds the fish with the worms. “The fish love the worms, they go mad when you put them in”, she says. “They are also very good for them as they are high in protein”.

If taken straight to the kitchen from the ponds carp can taste muddy. Jimmy advises swilling with spring water for a day or 2. In a test run they had their fish “done with some lemon zest and some herbs and garlic and peppers”. In another test at the localCBulm Valley Inn a chef stuffed a fish reared by the Hepburns with rosemary, thyme, and garlic, adding lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. The fish was then roasted for 20 minutes or so. It was “quite meaty, not dissimilar to sea bass in texture”. Opinions were mixed, however: Daryl, an angler who used to own a fish shop, pronounced: “It’s good fresh food, but I like fish that’s cooked simple without flavouring… I’ll stick to cod, thanks very much”.

Farming in lakes is being tried on a much bigger scale, e.g. in Lake Victoria in Central Africa with Nile perch. It will gain much attention as demand for animal-derived food and local production rise, in the face of rising costs with higher standards of (human) living. Catch-and-return fishing will be seen once again as a ridiculous pastime and ripe for banning. British supermarkets are already looking into means of slaughter and processing for the European market based on home and distant “fresh water” fisheries, and animal welfarists and environmentalists must overhaul their attitudes to the rearing and killing of the livestock and of worms and maggots and sources of feedstuffs; and finally nutritionists and medics will have to assess fresh and salt water fish for the wonderful properties advocated by the Food Standards Agency. However, anti-hunters have to extend their rigorous protection to “game” netted in the cruelties of catch-and-return angling and full animal welfarists and environmentalists must face the increasing threats in consigning more and more fish into the abyss of evil into oven-ready birds and broilers have been pitched.  

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