INTERVIEWS & FOOD
With the release of Seaspiracy on Netflix many of us are wondering if it’s still possible to eat fish sustainably. Nick Grimshaw, founder of Urchin believes it absolutely is. His new company (launched in lockdown) specialises in seafood boxes that champion the most progressive fishermen and women – and the fish is utterly delicious. We met the expert to find out more.
Can you tell us a bit about your background before setting up Urchin?
I have always had a passion for food and anything to do with the sea. I studied Biology at university before working in Nairobi as a piracy analyst for a bit. I came back to the UK and joined New England Seafood who have industry leading credentials in sustainability and are the go-to for many supermarkets and London restaurants. I have a good eye for quality and an independent nature, so I soon became a sort of man on the ground for the company, travelling around the world, working with different factories and fishing communities to source top quality, sustainable fish. I specialised in Wild Salmon, spending 6 consecutive summers in Alaska. I also worked with Tuna where I have consulted in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Korea, St. Helena and Indonesia.
I was very lucky to have been given such a long leash and able to explore. I’ve seen first-hand what goes in to producing fish – how to do it the right way – and met some fantastic people who helped inspire Urchin.
You used to work at Billingsgate Market, what was that like?
I worked for the infamous Roger Barton AKA ‘The Bastard of Billingsgate’. I loved it. It gets pretty frantic and really hones your salesmanship. We would start the night with 20 boxes of salmon that needed to go. It seemed an impossible task but the night would fly by and by morning you would be down to your last fish. It would be the same again the next night but this time it’s bream or squid. There weren’t really rules but it is trading in its purest form and I found it intoxicating. There is no doubt that Billingsgate is a London institution and I’m very glad to have been part of that.
Any tips for newbie Billingsgate visitors?
Leave time for a scallop and bacon bap in the café! There are some great pictures on the wall which give you a glimpse into the good old days. Saturday morning is probably the best time if you want to buy fish. Be adventurous and ask questions. You never quite know what will be on offer so try and come away with something fun like an enormous hake.
With programs like Seaspiracy coming out, is it still possible to eat fish sustainably?
Absolutely. There are plenty examples of success stories around the world and progress towards with stock recovery, human rights at sea transparency and environmental impact management. I have been lucky enough to work with the men and women making a difference witness this progress first hand. It has strongly influenced my sourcing philosophy.
Progress is hard won though and the topics raised in Seaspiracy are very real. I welcome the exposure programs like this provide with open arms as it heightens the scrutiny with which people buy their fish. That said, that particular documentary paints an incomplete picture, focusing on some of the most extreme and emotive practices within the global fishing industry without any mention of the other end of the spectrum.
At Urchin we are all about supporting fishermen and women who are doing things right and giving customers the confidence that their fish comes from progressive fisheries. Put simply – demand for sustainably caught fish drives fisheries to manage stocks sustainably.
What do we need to look out for when we’re buying and eating fish to know we’re not causing environmental harm?
For wild caught fish I buy from either MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) accredited fisheries or fish from fisheries that have implemented a FIP (Fishery Improvement Project). Without boring you with too much detail this basically means a thorough scientific assessment has been completed and fishery management rules implemented based on that data to ensure stocks remain safe or continue to recover where they have been depleted.
For farmed fish I buy from ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) accredited farms. This is the aquaculture equivalent of MSC and focuses on best practice farming, minimal environmental impact and animal welfare.
Where do you source your fish?
All over. My main buying objectives are to support fisheries that are doing things right, buying really good quality fish every time and buying fish that my customers want.
All our fish is frozen. Just like peas, this guarantees freshness and also massively reduces shelf-life waste. Supermarkets dispose 100s of tonnes of fish each year when its short shelf life runs out. Frozen fish allows us to avoid single use plastic packaging. All our packaging is recyclable.
What is your delivery area?
I currently deliver in North, West and South London, with plans to expand in the near future.
How long does your fish keep for in the freezer?
Unlike chilled fish, frozen fish, kept frozen will never become unsafe to eat and will last for a year or more. However, the quality will slowly deteriorate over time. I encourage customers to buy a month to 3 months’ worth of frozen fish, eat it all within that time frame and then order again rather than keep fish for months on end.
What was it like launching your business during lockdown?
I had a few false starts and changes of direction but luckily, being a home delivery business, Lockdown was if anything a help as everyone was stuck at home dreading another trip to queue for the shops. Uncertainty is a constant companion but it’s been a hugely rewarding experience overall.
Where do you live? What helped keep you going through the pandemic?
I live in Battersea. Starting a business kept me pretty busy! But I also did lots of cooking and exercise and dreamt of being back in Ireland floating around on a boat with a fishing rod. I also got quite creative and did a lot of the artwork and branding for the website.
What’s the most adventurous fish you’ve ever eaten?
I was offered a bowl of ‘poke’ in St. Helena which I gladly accepted. It turns out the ‘poke’ there is a local delicacy of stewed tuna stomachs. It was bloody good though.
Another memorable, weird meal was tuna ovaries boiled in seawater served to me by the crew of a tuna boat in the Maldives. I didn’t ask for seconds on that occasion.
Favorite recipe for this summer?
I made a really simple but delicious tray bake the other day. Thinly sliced potatoes and onions, sliced chorizo, green olives, garlic, cherry tomatoes, saffron (if you have it) and a dusting of paprika or pimento all go into a baking tray with loads of olive oil. Mix it up and press it all down a bit and bake at 180C for 45 mins or so until the top forms a nice golden crust. Then lay some fish fillets on top. I used haddock but bass would work well. Return to the oven for 10 mins or so to cook the fish. 1 tray and very little fuss. Serve with some tender stem broccoli. Yum!
Shop for a fish box from Urchin here. We have a 10% discount code for A Little Bird readers this summer, just use LITTLEBIRD at the check out.