The Seafood Interview supported by BIM - Gerard Collier

BIM Seafood Circle

This month Marilyn Bright talks to Gerard Collier, recently named BIM Young Fishmonger for 2015.

Gerard works every day within sight and sound of the sea at Clogherhead's picturesque Port Oriel. Always drawn to the busy comings and goings of the fishing boats, he remembers cycling down to the harbour as a schoolboy, cadging jobs mending nets or tailing prawns.

Gerard CollierToday he presides over the aptly named Fisherman's Catch, a neat blue and white quayside shop whose modest size belies the huge variety of Irish caught fish displayed on its counters. Owned by the Kirwin family over four generations, the shop has its own fishing boat, Argonaut IV, which specialises in seine netting. “With this method, fish are only in the nets 40 minutes at most,” Gerard explains, “With other methods, catch can be dragged for four to five hours which affects condition.”

Fascinated by seine-netting, the youthful Gerard crewed aboard the Argonaut for two years before being given the opportunity to take over the day to day running of the shop five years ago. It’s a role he clearly enjoys and takes great pride in the wide variety of fish offered daily. “Having pick of the catch is key, and I choose the best from other boats and ports to offer a good range,” he says. “I like to include the less usual too, for show - we had three albino haddock this year, and a few rainbow wrasse with their tropical colours.”

Gerard attributes the change in types of catch and seasonality to global temperature shifts, noting that there are no more blue shark now and fishermen are seeing more whales, as many as 16 in one pod recently.

A real rarity was the 58kg conger eel landed, the largest ever recorded, which was frozen and sent to scientists in London. “Most females mature at about four years, then leave for the Mediterranean to breed,” he explains. “They die after spawning and only the young; travel back, so finding one reckoned to be 15 years old is rare.”

Local customers who have grown up in this ancient princedom of Oriel tend to be steeped in seafaring tradition, are generally knowledgeable and happy to eat a wider variety of fish than might be the norm in other areas. Red mullet, for instance is highly regarded, and with a brief season that lasts only about three weeks, Gerard says that it nearly sells out before it reaches the counter. He obliges regular customers who wait all year for it, by phoning to alert them when a catch is making its way to harbour.

Gerard has noticed a big increase in fish sales over the past two years, with the old habit of fish only on Fridays gone by the board. Sunday is one of their best days and he sees Mondays and Wednesdays as the new days for fish.

L to R: Donal Buckley, Business Development & Innovation Director, BIM; Gerard Collier, Fisherman’s Catch, Clogherhead winner of BIM’s Young Fishmonger Competition 2015 and Martin Shanahan, Fishy Fishy Restaurant, Kinsale and TV broadcasterSeven days a week opening has also meant that the shop's customer base has expanded too, with seafood lovers making Sunday excursions to stock up on the spanking fresh fish. “People from Dublin make a day of it with a drive up the coast road, a walk on the beach and a mug of our hot chowder and brown bread, that they can take outside to sit on the harbour with a grand view of the trawlers and working boats. On weekdays, teachers from the local school might come down for a quick lunch and even on a winter day we'd sell 35 to 40 portions of chowder.”

Gerard's enthusiasm is also being spread to the younger generation, as he's asked to make presentations in the local schools. “I bring as many fresh species as possible- and they’re allowed to hold live crabs and lobsters with gloves so they're not afraid. We have questions and answers and demonstrate filleting. We gave out vouchers and after the first demonstration we had 120 kids come into the shop with their parents. Now the local crèche has asked us to make a presentation to the under 4’s.”

While space in the harbourside premises is limited, Gerard is thinking of shifting the boning and filleting area to make space for a few tables and chairs. “We’d never go into full fledged catering, but it would be nice for customers to have a bit of shelter when they have the chowder and bits and pieces we put up, like the smoked salmon and mackerel and platters of the mussels and oysters we get from Kelly's of Galway.”

Although much of the fresh fish on offer is filleted and pin-boned, Gerard recommends fish cooked on the bone for best flavour. Noting that this is the norm on the continent, he set up a dedicated whole fish counter which has proved popular with customers who now try dishes like whole roasted and stuffed fish they see prepared by television chefs.

Gerard sees great potential in developing the Irish seafood business but is adamant that value-added products shouldn't take the spotlight away from the fresh fish. “Everything we have on the shelves is to complement the fish - breadcrumbs, sauces, fresh coriander, dill, parsley, lemons. We make our own stock from a turbot, monkfish and brill base, which gives a lovely gelatinous finish, and we sell it ready to use or frozen,"

With customers keen on trying new ideas at home, Gerard garners ideas from books by Rick Stein and our own Martin Shanahan, and regrets that Georgina Campbell’s From Tide to Table is no longer available as it’s a favourite of his and was a best-seller in the shop.

A study trip to France is part of Gerard's prize as BIM Young Fishmonger 2015 and he plans to concentrate on the Mediterranean fish markets, where he's interested in the varieties of whole small fish commonly used in southern cooking. “They use fish that would be regarded here as by-catch or simply overlooked and I'm hoping to pick up some new ideas. The fish market is growing fast here and there's just no limit to the good things we can get from the sea around us.”

PHOTOS - Pictured at the announcement of the Winner of the Young Fishmonger Competition 2015:

Top: Gerard Collier, Fisherman’s Catch, Clogherhead winner of BIM’s Young Fishmonger Competition 2015

Bottom: L to R: Donal Buckley, Business Development & Innovation Director, BIM; Gerard Collier, Fisherman’s Catch, Clogherhead winner of BIM’s Young Fishmonger Competition 2015 and Martin Shanahan, Fishy Fishy Restaurant, Kinsale and TV broadcaster

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