A pioneering ethical fishmonger business helping to support local fishermen has opened its first hub in Plymouth.
Sole of Discretion launched at Plymouth Fisheries, the second largest fresh fish market in England based within a large, purpose-built complex in Sutton Harbour.
The business is a social enterprise dreamt up by acclaimed restaurateur Caroline Bennett, who opened the country’s first rotating sushi restaurant in London in 1994 which is still going strong.
Sole of Discretion was born out of a determination by Caroline to put more ethically sourced fish on restaurant menus – and to reward the fishermen who fish with environmental sensitivity, helping to protect the marine environment.
The initiative will operate as a Community Interest Company (CIC), with shares wholly owned by the fishermen. Individuals will be able to buy high quality, ethically sourced fish directly from the Sole of Discretion hub at Plymouth Fisheries, and fresh fish will be supplied to customers, including national restaurants. The company will work closely with the marine biology department at Exeter University and the science and engineering faculty at Plymouth University to support research.
The first secured customer is acclaimed nationwide food box provider Riverford, which has agreed an order for two tonnes of fresh fish a week.
Sole of Discretion founder Caroline Bennett said: “I’ve been actively trying to source good quality fish for my restaurants for years, and there are many good fishers out there, looking after the quality of their catch and fishing with environmental sensitivity.
“Yet they get the same market-driven prices as everyone else – and many are on the verge of giving up. On top of this, the mainstream supply chain can slow down the delivery of fish, and many fish counters can’t tell customers when their fish was landed, or by which boat – sometimes even in which country.
“Sole of Discretion will create a mechanism to financially reward the fishermen who are the best custodians of our seas, and we’ll get fresh, high quality fish dispatched or frozen within hours of the catch being landed. Sole of Discretion will put provenance, quality and fairness at the heart of its business model.”
After launching a successful Crowdfunder initiative to fund part of the first Sole of Discretion hub, Caroline’s aim is for more hubs to open at other UK locations, creating a nationwide collective of distribution channels for the inshore fishers.
Caroline said she chose Plymouth Fisheries as the location for the first hub for its great facilities on site, and because of the strong working relationships that the auction operator, Plymouth Trawler Agents (PTA), enjoys with the local fishermen.
Caroline Bennett said: “Plymouth Fisheries is a fantastic location and our unit is so close to the quayside and the auction room; the support I’ve had from the PTA and the fisheries team has been wonderful and I’m very excited to launch the business in Plymouth with the hope that it will eventually expand to the wider country.
“We’re not out to undermine the already excellent work that the PTA is doing; Plymouth is the best place in the country for fishermen to land and sell a catch.
“Sole of Discretion is an enterprise designed for the fishermen, and one of our biggest aims is to take the fluctuation out of fishing; one day a fishermen can get a good price for a catch, the next day a bad price. I want to take that away. Only time will tell if we will succeed and whether fishermen feel working with us enhances their income, or if they would rather go to auction – I appreciate what we’re suggesting goes against the grain of years of inherited practice.
“But as the fishermen working with the business will also own the company, they will also earn money in dividends, and this will hopefully be of benefit to the fishermen themselves, as well as to the customers and to the environment.”
Sole of Discretion started trading at the end of April, and customers will be welcome to visit the hub, based at Unit 5 of Plymouth Fisheries in Fish Quay, from mid-May, once chillers are installed in the building.
Plymouth Fisheries has revitalised the region’s fishing industry since the complex was built in Fish Quay 21 years ago by owners and operators Sutton Harbour Holdings plc.
Now the second largest fish market in England, Plymouth Fisheries sustains more than 600 direct and indirect jobs and contributes £22.6million a year to the city’s economy, selling more than 6,000 tonnes of fish every year.
Pete Bromley, Harbour Master and Manager of Plymouth Fisheries, said: “We are delighted to welcome Sole of Discretion to Plymouth Fisheries to complement the range of fishmongers and fish merchants based in the complex.
“Since we opened 21 years ago, Plymouth Fisheries has been passionate about supporting the fishermen and the fishing industry, and we work in close partnership with Plymouth Trawler Agents to ensure the fisheries is the best place in the country to land and sell a catch, with a passionate commitment to ensuring our fishermen can get the best possible price for the fish they land, and a fair deal.
“Sole of Discretion will offer something new to both the fishermen and the customer, and we wish the business well as it becomes established in Plymouth.”