There’s probably no greater incentive for a fisherman to ensure his catch is of the best possible quality, than when it’s landed and taken straight to his own shop to be sold to hungry customers. This is certainly the case for Calum Greenhalgh and his wife, Tracey, owners of ‘Fresh from the Sea’ fish shop, based in Port Isaac – a beautifully picturesque fishing village on the north coast of Cornwall.
Their story is one of daily graft, taking pride in their product and evolving to the changing rhythms of the market and of the sea itself.
Calum casts off from Port Isaac every morning, on his recently purchased catamaran vessel, the Evan George, between 4am and 6am. He returns in the early afternoon with his catch, “it’s a tidal harbour here, so I can only come and go about three hours either side of high water,” Calum explains.
He then makes the 100-metre ascent up the hill to Fresh from the Sea, with curious eyes eager to see what he’s brought in – a great roving advertisement for the shop. Depending on how busy the shop is, he’ll stay and help Tracey, who runs the operation and does most of the cooking. It’s an efficient division of labour. “I’ve been self-employed for so long. And now I seem to be working for my wife!”
The shop has been a mainstay of Port Isaac for the past 13 years now, but Calum has been fishing for 33 years, “since I was a baby” he jokes.
So where did the idea for the shop come from? “Before we opened, we were just exporting all the time to France and Spain. Prices didn’t really budge for about 30 years, but the costs started ramping up. We just came to a breaking point, and we had to either stop fishing or do something else.”
Exporting their catch also meant they had little say over how much they sell for, with both high quality and less up-to-scratch fish being sold in bulk together.
Selling their own produce out of their own shop was a way for Calum to take back control. “You are your own boss. You can, to an extent, set your own price. It is hard work to maintain a standard. But it is very rewarding when customers can see that we’re doing what we say we’re doing.” Transparency is key, and you can’t get much more transparent than watching Calum climb up the hill with his catch that will later be ready to purchase from the shop.
Calum casts a wide net in terms of the species he fishes for: crab, lobster, mackerel and pollock among the most common. The menu at Fresh from the Sea is in constant flux. And that’s a good thing, because to live up to the name, freshness is dependent on selling what’s in season.
“I’d like people to understand that fish are seasonal” says Calum (we wholeheartedly agree, by the way!) and he explains that while some people just think that “a fish is a fish” and that changing the menu to reflect what’s in season is great, others will come in and say, “well I had this the last time I was here, why aren’t you doing it now?”
It all comes back, once again, to quality for Calum, who feels cheated by those who take fish out of the sea before it’s reached full maturity. “Particularly with shellfish, you will get money for it, but it’s a poor product, so you’re giving someone a poor product. If you left that in the sea, about six month later, it would be in prime condition.”
This particular case also ties into sustainability, an issue at the core of Fresh from the Sea. “Spider crab (a.k.a Cornish king crab) is a great example. Because really, you only want to be eating the large males. If we put everything else back, the whole thing would be sustainable.”
Calum has been doing his part, supplying the National Lobster Hatchery in nearby Padstow with female lobsters. The Hatchery nurtures the female lobsters until their eggs hatch and the infants grow to a certain size, when they’re released into the sea, often by Calum.
Speaking about his motivation for sustainable fishing, Calum says “We can’t get away from the fact that we’ve been overfishing. My wife’s family goes back generations fishing. Her grandfather was like my mentor. In his stories, he used to tell us about the fish that was there. It’s not even close to what is there now. So I think we need to fish it in a properly sustainable manner. And leave it in a better place for the next generation than it was when we took it on.”
Go on and treat yourself to the freshest possible taste of Port Isaac! You can find Fresh from the Sea on New Road. They’re open from 9.30am – 4.00pm, except in bad weather, when Calum can’t get out on his boat to bring in any produce. See their Facebook, Instagram and website for more information.
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