Scots scale down traditional Fish Friday

By Emma Cowing
IT HAS been a custom in homes, schools and workplaces across Scotland for centuries, and a regular end of the week treat served with chips and peas. But now it seems the traditional Fish Friday is in decline.

• Only 6 per cent of Scots regularly eat fish on a Friday, although it is still a busy day for fishmongers Photograph: Robert Perry

A survey has found only 6 per cent of Scots regularly eat fish on Fridays, despite 85 per cent being aware of the tradition. Across the UK, just 13 per cent eat fish at the end of the week, although six out of ten people say they are conscious they should feed their families more fish because of its health benefits.

Reasons for the decline in fish on Fridays include a rise in eating out at the weekends, as well the increasing availability of a range of tasty alternatives.

The survey, conducted by fish processor John West, also suggested some Scots have abandoned fish on a Friday for less healthy foods, with 13 per cent saying they opted for a fast-food takeaway. Around 12 per cent of Scots said they did not regularly eat fish at home because it was too expensive.

The survey, among more than 1,100 people across the UK, also uncovered some bizarre reasons for not eating fish. It estimates that around 2.4 million people in the UK say they don't eat fish because they don't like the bones, while a further 2.4 million don't eat it because they don't like the eyes. Around 1.8 million are also worried about not cooking it properly, while 400,000 won't touch fish because they or their children have seen the animated film Finding Nemo about a clown fish trying to return to his home.

TV chef James Martin said Britain's health was suffering as a result. "The UK Food Standards Agency suggests we should all be eating two fish meals a week for our health," he said. "But with the decline of the Friday fish supper, and fears about how to cook fish correctly, many of us are failing to meet this target," he said.

Over the years many schools and offices have also abandoned the traditional option of fish in the canteen on a Friday, once a mainstay. According to Edinburgh City Council, the majority of its schools no longer serve fish on Fridays, although a few still offer it on Thursdays instead.

Edinburgh City Council's headquarters still serves the traditional fish on a Friday, and some Scottish corporate caterers still put fish on their office menus, although not necessarily on a Friday.

The notion of eating fish on a Friday originated from the early church tradition of refraining from eating meat at the end of the week, especially during Lent.

It became so popular that it was maintained by post-Reformation traditions across Britain, and became a useful mainstay during the lean times of the 20th century including the Great Depression and the Second World War, as fish was often cheaper
and more readily available than meat.

It also contributed to the great British tradition of the fish supper, with many Scots patronising fish and chip shops on a Friday night. However, the survey also found that despite the decline of Fish Friday, 76 per cent of Scots do eat fish once or twice a week. Retailers insist that Friday is still the most popular day for those buying fish.

A Sainsbury's spokesman said: "Friday is our biggest day for fish, with over 20 per cent of our weekly sales taking place on that day."

Waitrose fish buyer Jeremy Langley said: "Our two strongest days for fish sales are always Friday and Saturday, which would suggest that to a certain extent people are still buying fish for a Friday, or perhaps the weekend. However, fish sales are extremely strong consistently throughout the week, which suggests that perhaps the move away from Fish Friday is down to fish becoming a more everyday meal.

"Strong sales of fish may also be partially down to consumers becoming increasingly concerned with healthy eating."

Some chefs also believe the decline of Fish Friday is due to the food being more available throughout the week.

Roy Brett, chef and proprietor at Edinburgh fish restaurant Ondine, said: "You can get fresh fish almost daily now, I think that's the big difference.

"The old tradition goes back to a time when you were dependent on when the fish man came round and then you'd have to choose the fish on the day that the van arrived. Nowadays supermarkets and fish merchants get you fish virtually every day of the week."

A spokesman for John West said: "Studies show that people who eat fish regularly are less likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke. Fish is a good source of protein and vitamins and minerals."