English all at sea over fish identification - try our 'Name That Tuna' quiz


When it comes to fish, the English are all at sea, according to new research.

Despite being an island nation, we really do not know our cockles from our mussels, and most of us cannot even recognise cod!

In a survey of European consumers, the English were anchored to the bottom in telling six popular types of seafood apart.

Asked to identify six popular catches, like mackerel, sole and anchovy, English shoppers on average guessed just one correctly, and recorded less than half the number of correct answers achieved by their Spanish counterparts.

Europeans 'hardly experts'

In the survey of 720 consumers, just 18.19% of identifications were made correctly by English respondents.

Consumers in other countries were more knowledgeable but hardly expert in their identifications. Belgians correctly named the species in 26.39% of cases, Greeks in 31.19%, Irish in 33.3%, Italians in 33.9% and Spaniards in 37.5% of cases.

“The English are worryingly unfamiliar with what is on their plate and where it comes from but to be fair, no-one comes out of this well,” stated Professor Stefano Mariani, a marine ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University.

Wild guesses

The team quizzed 120 shoppers in each of six cities across Europe including Dublin, Barcelona, Turin and Manchester.

And while they found correlations between regional markets and knowledge – for example that anchovy and sole were more familiar to consumers in southern Europe, they noted a distinct difference between southern and northern Europe.

Respondents from England, Belgium and Ireland were “more prone to wild guesses” such as ‘goldfish’, ‘minnow’, ‘stickleback’ and even ‘piranha’.

The fish most identified by the English were salmon, mackerel and cod with anchovy, sole and sea bass, the least familiar.

Conservation concerns

Such food illiteracy, the scientists argue has a serious side. “The problem with thinking that fish is just fish and simply a homogenised commodity is to overlook any species-specific ecological and environmental issues,” explained Dr Marine Cusa, who led the study published today (March 16) in Sustainability Science.

“As long as consumers ignore the origins of their fish, seafood will likely continue to be at the mercy of mislabelling, species substitution (fish fraud) and unregulated fishing,” she said.

The research team included investigators in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy, Norway, Ireland and Belgium.

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