From Selsey’s famous crab and lobster to the scallops of Rye Bay, Sussex’s coast offers a huge bounty of seafood. Nick Mosley discovers what local and sustainable fish should be on our dish this summer.
Thankfully long gone are the days when our seafood choices were limited to fish fingers, prawn cocktails and cod and chips. Today across Sussex we have a growing choice of quality restaurants offering up fresh locally-caught fish and – importantly – sustainability is at the heart of their sourcing.
Shoreham is one of the UK’s largest 20 fishing ports in terms of value of landings by UK vessels, and is by far the biggest fishing port in the south east of England. Most commercial fishing boats that operate off the Sussex Coast are under 10 metres in length and operate inshore, usually within six nautical miles of the coast and under licence from the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA). The boats land their catch each day and are multi-purpose so can adapt to the pursuit of different species depending on season and quota.
Sole is commonly caught in the spring and autumn with bass targeted in the summer and cod in the winter. According to the IFCA, a total of 1209 tonnes of shellfish was reported being landed on catch returns in 2020. 99% of landings were from pots and 1% were from nets and trawls. Whelk, lobster, crab and cuttlefish are caught in pots, whilst further out into the English channel scallop and oyster dredging takes place – often by larger boats – which is more destructive to the seabed.
Located in Shoreham harbour, Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales (BNFS) catches, processes and distributes to restaurants and retailers across the region.
BNFS director, Kier Foster, has witnessed an ever-growing trend for local and sustainable fish.
“Chefs are increasingly asking for local fish”, said Kier. “We have expanded our fishing boat fleet to try to cope with the demand”.
“Dover sole and plaice are the two most abundant fish in the English channel, along with turbot and brill. Wild bass is back in season following a fishing closure during the spawning season”.
As well as their boats and processing plant, BNFS has a popular shop on Basin Road South alongside Hove Lagoon where an extensive range of seafood can be purchased to take home, with staff happy to answer questions about how to cook fish and crustacea.
They also offer a home delivery service that includes a Sussex catch box featuring 12 fillets of fresh, locally landed fish and prepared within 24 hours of capture.
“It’s a really popular choice”, said Kier. “And a great way of eating fish you may not have tried before”.
Heading West, Crabshack is a family-owned beach-front restaurant that has become a Sussex dining icon. Following appearing in The Guardian’s ‘top 50 beach restaurants in Europe’ list, Crabshack is a must-do for anyone visiting Worthing. The team have recently opened their second outlet, Catch, in Brighton’s Shelter Hall.
“We offer informal dining in casual surroundings with friendly service and great food”, said co-owner Sarah Tinker-Taylor.
“As much as possible we use locally and responsibly sourced fish; our daily specials are always locally caught between Newhaven and Bognor. In July expect to see a lot of mackerel, sardines and plaice on our specials as well as local lobster”.
“One of our most popular dishes is a Sicilian inspired fish stew. A light tomato, fennel and tarragon base with squid, prawns, clams or mussels – whichever is in season – and topped with a pan-fried sea bream fillet and a kick of chilli”.
Over in East Sussex, Hastings has a long and proud history of fishing and is home to the largest on-shore fleet in Europe. With the absence of a harbour, boats are mechanically hauled onto the beach to unload their daily catch.
Located quite literally a stones throw from the beach, Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore restaurant claims to have one of the shortest ingredient journeys in Brighton – from boat to plate in minutes.
“Sussex is one of the best places to enjoy seafood in the UK with a wealth of small fishing fleets bringing freshly caught fish and seafood to local restaurants”, said Rebecca Webbe of Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore. “From Hove to Hastings you can experience the daily catch right on your doorstep".
“At the restaurant we use locally caught fish such as gurnard and famous Rye Bay scallops from just along the coast. This summer on the menu we’ve got tiger prawn, salmon, squid and mussel linguini with garlic, chilli and Parmesan or try our lush monkfish and shrimp burger. There’s something to satisfy all seafood fanciers”.
Rebecca also regularly enjoys seafood from her neighbouring businesses: “If we want good seafood we head down to one of the tiny stalls on the beach and get fresh fish rolls – truly mouth-watering”.
The responsible management of our coastline and its marine life is a fine balancing act between environmental, social and economic pressures. By choosing local and seasonal seafood that has been caught from well-managed stocks and with the least impact on the ecosystem, we can all continue enjoying fresh and high quality Sussex seafood.