Wholly mackerel! It’s Yorkshire’s own fish day

The coastal town of Staithes which will host a new festival celerbating the  area's fishing industry.
The coastal town of Staithes which will host a new festival celerbating the area's fishing industry.
  • As a brand new festival launches to celebrate Yorkshire’s fishing heritage, Sarah Freeman speaks to those behind Fish, Fillet, Feast.
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Inspiration often strikes in unlikely places. Archimedes was famously in the bath when he came up with his formula for working out the volume of odd-shaped objects. JK Rowling happened to be on a crowded train when the first seeds of the Harry Potter phenomenon were sown. Susan Briggs had her lightbulb moment in northern Iceland. “I’d been working with the North York Moors National Park on ways we could bring the county’s coastal communities to life,” she says. “Various projects had been suggested, but while I was on holiday in Iceland I happened to visit a town called Dalvíkurbyggð when it was holding an annual celebration called The Great Fish Day.”

The festival had been launched eight years earlier in part to raise the profile of Iceland’s fishing industry, but also to encourage people to eat more of the stuff and the premise was simple. Have local fishermen land the catch in the morning and then throughout the day chefs cook up dishes which are then given away free to visitors.

The harbour at Staithes

The harbour at Staithes

“It was brilliantly simple and I just thought we could do something similar over here,” says Briggs, who is director of the Masham-based Tourism Network. That was last summer and next Saturday will see the launch of the very first Fish, Fillet, Feast event.

Unlike its Icelandic equivalent, Yorkshire’s version will run across not one, but 10 towns and villages between Saltburn and Ravenscar.

“There is a temptation to think that the fishing industry has been consigned to history, but that’s just not true,” says Briggs. “It might have changed significantly since the days when Staithes was the largest fishing port along the North East coast back in the late 1800s, but it is still alive and well. In 1951 only one coble remained in Staithes and overfishing later hit the industry hard. However, today the waters off the Yorkshire coast are once again home to a wide range of fish and the last few years has definitely seen a bit of a renaissance.

“Part of the reason for staging this event is to show that Yorkshire still has a home-grown industry and to get people to embrace it.

Jo Jackson dressed as a traditional fisherwoman. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Jo Jackson dressed as a traditional fisherwoman. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

“As a nation we gradually became disconnected from where our food came from, but now there is a growing interest in provenance. As well as showing how fishing has influenced the coastline over the centuries, through the festival we also want to show people the simple pleasures of eating freshly caught and cooked fish.”

The day will begin early in the morning when the fishing fleet sets out as usual to bring back the day’s catch. From mid-morning onwards chefs at various seafront venues, including Rob Green, a former seafood chef of the year, will demonstrate how to prepare and cook the freshly-caught fish, before a series of free tastings.

“Fish is the ultimate fast food, but so many people are still nervous about cooking it. They are worried they will overcook it; they are worried they will undercook it and often the result is that they don’t cook it at all,” says Green, who ran Greens restaurant in Whitby for 15 years before deciding to close the business in January.

“When you run a restaurant you are tied to it 24-7. Greens was a labour of love for many years, but I just decided I wanted a change 
and now I have a lot more freedom to do other things, like this festival. Getting out to meet people and showing them simple skills which they can take home and use gives me a real sense of satisfaction.

Rob Green, Chef Consultant, with Fish Merchant William Crooks, from Whitby

Rob Green, Chef Consultant, with Fish Merchant William Crooks, from Whitby

“I will be down on the slipway at Robin Hood’s Bay and there is something special about being able to take a fish, which has been caught just hours earlier and showing people just how quick and simple it is to turn it into something really tasty.”

As well as foodie-themed events, throughout the day there will be a series of fishy-themed entertainment, including storytelling sessions, sea shanty singing and, perhaps most intriguingly of all, the chance to have your fortune told by the Salmon of Knowledge in Robin Hood’s Bay.

“We want as many people to get involved as possible and we will also be asking people to name the 4ft fish sculpture outside the Old Coastguard Station in Robin Hood’s Bay,” says Briggs.

“Despite being the oldest known RNLI donation box dating back to 1886, it has never been given a name and having been recently restored we reckon it’s time that it is anonymous no more.

“What we want to do is create a trail along the coast which people can explore throughout the day and next year we hope the various communities will stage their own festival.

“We really want this to be about the people who live and work on the coast and giving them an event which they can really run with.”

Fish, Fillet, Feast will take place on Saturday, June 18 from 11am until 7pm and most of the events will be free of charge. Timings of events varies and different activities are happening in each village. The full programme and further details can be found on the North York Moors National Park’s website at northyorkmoors.org.uk/fish