The Cornish town of Looe is a beautiful coastal hub with a thriving fishing port and more fresh fish than you can shake a stick at. We speak to Angela Pengelly, the previous owner of Pengelly’s Fishmongers, about the business’s heritage, the importance of sustainability, and how the family business continue to secure only the freshest fish.
Pengelly’s have a deep-rooted connection with fishing that spans way back over five generations, with Angela’s great-grandfather selling fish from a horse and cart.
“One day grandfather bought a horse-and-cart from Plymouth fish market and brought it back to Looe. It caused chaos in the town the first morning he opened!”
Angela’s grandfather was given a space on the quay, and that spot is still theirs today! It was passed to Angela’s Mum and Dad, who worked hard to bring it in line with modern health and safety regs, and establish the footing it has today. But several years ago, when her father developed dementia and had to stop working, Angela was faced with a conundrum; continue her own business or take over that of her parents.
“I asked myself what my Grandfather would say, and I knew he would want me to carry on the business he worked so hard to set up.” And so, Angela channelled her Grandfather’s gusto, took herself off to market, and started her new position as a buyer.
From there, Angela’s passion for fishing grew as she learned more about fish politics (yep – that’s a thing) like sustainability, quotas, and protecting the waters. But her real passion has turned to encouraging and inspiring more young people in to fishing.
“I feel excited about what’s happening. And because I’m passionate about all aspects of fishing, shellfish, protection, sustainability and education, I’ve been elected to be harbour commissioner!”
In order to keep Cornish fishing sustainable, it’s incredibly important to inspire fresh generations of fishers to come into the industry. The average age of a UK fisher is currently 58! The CFPO Youth Board is developing programmes to improve recruitment of more young entrants in Cornish fishing.
As well as a sustainable workforce, sustainability in fishing can also be achieved by keeping the boats small, and reducing the number of “large factory ships”. Angela explains how those larger ships can often impact the food chain, as they trawl the food that the fish eat.
When Pengelly’s have dedicated their livelihood to sourcing only the highest quality fish, it’s of course disheartening to see the quality of the fish sold in supermarkets, and at the fish counters there.
It may sound like tough criticism, but when you have as much experience as Angela, sniffing out poor quality fish becomes second nature.
“Every morning when I went to the market I would have to buy with my eyes and nose.”
Whilst it’s important to never judge a book by its cover, we all know that when shopping for fish, we buy with our eyes! The skill is important for a fishmonger, because judging the appearance of the stock on offer influences which fish are chosen for their quality.
The fish at Pengelly’s is bought directly from boats in Looe that day. It’s pristine, fresh and it’s barely handled because it’s bought only 15 metres from where it’s landed. Pengelly’s pay around 50p more per kilo than at the fish market to secure this quality – but the proof is certainly in the pudding when you come to cook with it.
But it’s not all about sourcing and selling the fish; educating consumers on the possibilities with seafood is essential to increasing fish sales.
“When I sell fish I often ask what the customer’s going to do with it…and then I can’t help but give my advice! Flour, salt and pepper, oil, a quick sizzle – it’s beautiful! Cook it quickly. It’s GOT to be cooked quickly!”
Pengelly’s also create cooking bags which are great for customers who don’t like to handle the fish. Whether it’s filleted fish chucked in with samphire and herbs, or a bag of fish cakes, mussels and pâtés, they’re fresh, tasty and ready in minutes.
Pengelly’s also do fish boxes! Set boxes at £50, or bespoke boxes for however much you’d like to spend! Order on 01503 262246. There is also an online shop – coming soon – where you’ll be able to get next day delivery to almost anywhere in the UK.
In 2018 Angela sold the business to experienced fishmonger Rob Phillips. Rob started in the industry at 13 years old and has worked in many variations of fish shop.
Angela has continued to work with Rob as her passion for the industry is so strong.
Rob has plans to set up Pengelly’s Fish School this year! This will range from educational talks about species, habitats, and how the fish are caught, fun events for Hen Dos (and BYOB – of course!) to creative cooking classes with local Looe chef, Debbie Thorpe and many more. Angela will be working alongside Rob to share her valuable knowledge. The aim is to have “Catch & Cook” class options that go out on the handline boats.
Fishing is Cornwall’s identity. It’s the county surrounded by the most water. It’s clean and unpolluted, and that’s why Cornish Fish is loved around the world. “There was even a time when we were sending fish once a week from Looe to Hollywood!”
Fishing and family so very often go hand in hand; whether it’s keeping the family business alive, or handing recipes down through generations.
Seafood Cornwall #FaveFlavours:
“I really love haddock. It’s very sweet if you have it as fresh as we have it, and it’s not too strong! Simply season, flour, and pan fry. You don’t need lots of fancy sauces – just a little bit of lemon, and enjoy the natural flavour.”
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