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What it takes to become Ireland's best young fishmonger...

The Young Fishmonger of the Year award is now in its fourth year and eight professionals from across the country are on the shortlist.

shutterstock_416411716 Source: Shutterstock/Terence Mendoza

APART FROM KNOWING that eating fish is good for you, the business of selling it is probably one that is a little unknown to many of us.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the national seafood development agency, isseeking to change all that with this year’s inaugural Seafood Awards.

The awards themselves will take place on 17 November in the Clayton Hotel in Dublin, and they’ll encompass the sector as a whole.

But one of the most prestigious prizes on offer will be that of Young Fishmonger of the Year, with eight of the best young fish professionals from around the country having been shortlisted.

The eight finalists hail from across the country, with four each representing two categories: ’Independent Seafood Specialist of the Year’ and ‘Supermarket Seafood Counter of the year’.

Collage YFM 2017_V2 The eight finalists

The novel award, now in its fourth year of existence, is aimed at “celebrating the skills of our seafood industry” according to Tara McCarthy, chief executive of BIM.

Put another way, the seafood industry is worth €234 million each year with more than 500 seafood counters dotted around the country, and it’s one whose growth BIM wants to encourage.

BIM describes fish as “the most on-trend protein in the market”. Which is all a little public relations-y, but you get the picture – seafood is big business right now.

The next two-and-a-half months will see the eight finalists being visited by judges to assess their seafood knowledge, skills, technique, and customer service standards.

There’s also a final stage in late October which will require the contestants to “fillet and prepare a range of fish and shellfish under time constraints”.

These finalists will be put through their paces, that much is certain.

What does it take?

The contestants themselves are very happy indeed at the recognition that comes with the award. TheJournal.ie spoke to two of them, and it’s fair to say that passion for seafood is a common denominator.

Eimantas Zvirblis, from Lithuania but living here for the last 10 years, works on the fish counter at Donnybrook Fair in Malahide, north Dublin, which opened last December.

He’s competing in the ‘Supermarket Seafood Counter of the year’ category. He also eats fish every day.

“It means a lot actually,” the 27-year-old says of his nomination.

It means that our quality of fish, customer service, and presentation is all at the top.

Eimantas explains that he has been visited already “about four or five times” by judges.

“They want to be sure you know what’s fresh and what’s not,” he says.

He got into the industry after working for a smoked fish company, and smoked fish remains his specialty.

“I was always passionate about food,” he says. “I would spend all of my day off cooking in the kitchen. I just really enjoy food.”

018_Eimantas_Zvirblis (2) Eimantas Zvirblis Source: Paul Sherwood

His favourite fish is seabass (“a really brilliant, nice fish”), and he says that smoked eel is his favourite undiscovered smoked seafood. Possibly because it’s not legal to sell in Ireland.

“It’s not legal in Ireland, but you can get them in Northern Ireland,” he says.

It’s delicious.
Many of my colleagues in Donnybrook Fair are now eating more fish and many customers are telling me that they are eating more fish too. I believe that spreading this passion is a very important part of being a fishmonger.

The independent retailer

Anne Stephens, meanwhile, is competing for the Independent Seafood Retailer award. The 32-year-old has quite the pedigree – she runs The Fish Market in Maynooth, Co Kildare, has two other shops in Blanchardstown and Mullingar, and her husband George is himself the reigning 2016 Young Fishmonger of the Year.

“I can’t believe I’ve got to the final, it’s very prestigious I think, I was very surprised,” she says. She may be surprised, but there’s a pedigree here – this is the third year running the company has been nominated for the award.

Anne says that her shop has seen a number of secret shoppers (professional shoppers who rate a store’s service and product incognito) in recent months before making the final eight, together with specialist judges who rated their species knowledge and freshness.

022_Anne_Stephens (2) Anne Stephens Source: Paul Sherwood

One thing that may surprise you about her – she didn’t eat fish until eight years ago.

“I eat it about six days a week now,” she says. “Black sole is my favourite.”

Her shop stocks at least 40 species of fish at any one time – turbot, brill, halibut, together with more common names types like whiting and haddock. Anne stresses however that if there’s any kind of fish you want, she will aim to get it for you.

Her range now includes gluten-free products also. Whoever said fish products couldn’t keep up with the times?

“We’re all really busy,” she says.

“Once you have a good fresh product, your fish is fresh and you’re moving it all the time, that’s the main thing really.”

It’s important to have fish shops. We need to educate more, we’re an island after all. We should all be eating fish.

The finalists for Young Fishmonger of the Year 2017 are:

Independent Seafood Specialist Category:

  • Stephen Hurley, The Fish Shop, Union Hall, Co Cork
  • Peter Roberts, Roberts of Dalkey, Dublin
  • Anne Stephens, The Fish Market, Maynooth, Co Kildare
  • Philip Fitzsimons, Fitzsimons Family Fishmongers, Crumlin, Dublin

Supermarket Seafood Counter Category:

  • Eimantas Zvirblis, Donnybrook Fair, Malahide, Co Dublin
  • Alona Dutchak, Dunnes Stores, Childers Road, Limerick
  • Anthony Murray, Dunnes Stores, Headford Road, Galway
  • Katarina Curmova, Dunnes Stores, Longford, Co Longford

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