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Q&A with Jack Messenger of Sea Haze

Jack won BITE Sussex 'Fishing & Seafood' Rising Star 2021 on Monday 22 November. Here he is with Sir Peter Field, Rachael Stevens of the Institute of Hospitality, category judge Olivia Reid of Sessions Market and Brighton & Hove Mayor Alan Robins – credit Julia Claxton

Local fishmonger, Jack Messenger (25), won the Bite Sussex ‘Fishing & Seafood’ Rising Stars Award at the ceremony held on Monday 22 November at Monarch in Brighton. Nick Mosley talks to him about his career in the family business, Sea Haze.

Your name, age and a little about you?

Jack Messenger, 25 years old, from Saltdean.

I left school when I finished my exams in June 2012. The following day, I went on to help running the family business. I had no idea about different types of fish, how fishing works or even filleting; I was as novice as it gets.

However, I’d always known that I wanted to have a career that was hands on and do something where I could succeed and also make my family proud.

Sea Haze is located in Kings Road Arches, Brighton

Tell us about where you work…

Our family fish shop is called Sea Haze we’re located on Brighton seafront in between the two piers, just a few arches along from the fishing museum. The shop was established in 1995 by my great uncle, Allan Hays. He left fishing to start a shop, before handing over to his nephew – and my dad – Neil in 2006. We’re still going strong to this day after about 25 years of trading.

When I started in the business, my dad was buying fish from local fisherman and when I joined the shop he taught me everything. From different kinds of filleting to learning the seasons of different fish. After about a year, at the age of 17, I was left to serve the customers and basically ran the shop myself.

I said to my dad: “maybe you could go back fishing? Stop buying fish in and catch our own because no other business in Brighton does sustainable fish directly from their boat straight to the shop”.

My dad agreed that this would be a great way to cut out the middleman, keep our prices down and make more of a profit. As an ex-fisherman, it made perfect sense to him. It also meant we could be a lot more accommodating to our customers; they have my personal phone number and can talk to me day or night about what fish we have. I even offer a local delivery service on my bike.

Jack Messenger of Sea Haze

Where do you sell your fish and seafood?

We don’t sell to restaurants due to the fact they don’t want fresh fish. It’s hard to believe but we have tried with restaurants before and they prefer filleted fish, don’t want the tail piece or simply say it’s too expensive. We’re not expensive, its just most restaurants are used to using low-cost farmed or trawled fish rather than locally netted fish. So much farmed bass and bream is from Greece or France.

How many are in your team and who are they?

Today, there are three of us in the team. I run the shop on my own, my dad fishes on his own and Anouare runs our shellfish stall opposite the shop. I have to say we all work extremely hard to satisfy every customer.

How did you cope during the pandemic?

During the pandemic, we were very, very lucky as we were one of only three places on Brighton seafront that could stay open because we were an essential business.

My dad could still fish because he worked on the boat on his own out at sea and because everyone was coming for walks along the seafront noticing we were the only shop open people were fascinated to see what we were selling. With restaurants closed, people had to cook there own fish at home so people were finding us on Google. We gained many new customers during the pandemic and I’m thankful to say they are all still coming in and I’ve made so many new friends as well as customers.

When people talk about the shop they normally don’t know it as Sea Haze; they know it as Jack’s. It’s really pleasing that they don’t just come for the fish but to see me too! During the pandemic especially, I think it meant a lot to people that they could have a chat with our team.

Fresh, locally net caught fish

What would you like to tell us about your business?

We’re just a small family run business that takes a lot of care with every customer who walks in. A lot of people say they don’t like fish because they don’t like the bones, but I think we’ve gone from strength-to-strength as I can almost guarantee no bones in our fish fillets, so customers can enjoy every mouthful.

What are your plans for the future?

In the future, I’d one day hope to bring my kids into the family business, if I’m lucky enough to have children of my own. I’m also keen to make people more aware of the different fish seasons and also where fish is coming from. For example, red snapper doesn’t come from European waters – its shipped over from Indonesia. Also, a lot of restaurants and fish and chip shops shout that they sell ‘fresh local fish’ but sadly often this has been pre-frozen and defrosted then delivered locally. I think there is a lot for people to learn in terms of what is truly local and seasonal.

Is fish becoming more popular at this time of the year?

With Christmas coming, I’ve noticed people have definitely moved away from the traditional turkey dinner. People are having more seafood such as lobster and oysters, and fish like whole bass. We’re taking orders now with Sunday 19 December the last date.

Sea Haze, 207 Kings Road Arches, Brighton BN1 1NB

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