THE search for the Young Fishmonger 2017 Awards has started with the publication of a shortlist of eight finalists.
They will compete for the Independent Seafood Specialist of the Year and Supermarket Seafood Counter of the Year awards.
These will be presented at the inaugural Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) seafood awards in the Clayton Hotel, Dublin, on November 17.
BIM chief executive Tara McCarthy said the country needs to celebrate the skills of its seafood industry. The competition highlights one of the stalwarts of the retail sector — the fishmonger.
“It is designed to reward and recognise talent but also to encourage and train new entrants into a sector which has experienced a noticeable revitalisation in recent years. With more than 500 independent and supermarket seafood counters nationwide and domestic sales reaching €234 million this year, seafood has fast become the most on-trend protein in the market,” she said.
The eight finalists will receive in-depth visits by the judges to assess their knowledge of seafood, their understanding of quality issues, their skills, techniques and customer service.
Each fishmonger will be required to fillet and prepare a range of fish and shellfish under time constraints. They will also be asked to discuss their future career plans and ambitions. This will take place in BIM’s Seafood Development Centre in Clonakilty.
Stephen Hurley, The Fish Shop, Union Hall, Co Cork, is one of the four finalists in the Independent Seafood Specialist category. As a young boy he took a keen interest in the boats at the pier in Union Hall and would be thrilled to see fresh prawns and plaice jumping in the boxes as the fishermen landed their daily catches.
Stephen, who worked as a teenager on a boat, hauling shrimp pots, loves stocking locally-caught fish and shellfish in store. On any given day he has upwards of 25 different species in stock.
Another finalist, Philip Fitzsimons, Kimmage Road West, Dublin, has worked in the family fish shop since he was 13 years old. His father taught him how to fillet and store fish and educated him on the handling of fresh and frozen seafood.
According to Philip, who is due to open his own store in Dun Laoghaire, the seafood business is in a good place and with more people considering their health he believes it will continue to grow in the coming years.
Another contender, Peter Roberts, Dalkey, Co Dublin, also grew up living by the sea. He opened his own seafood retail shop in 2011 and has since developed three concession seafood counters in the capital.
He plans to develop a range of luxury seafood products across the four retail locations in addition to online sales through the Roberts of Dalkey website.
The only woman finalist in this category is Anne Stephens, manager of The Fish Market in Maynooth, Co Kildare. It also has retail outlets in Mullingar and Blanchardstown.
She has been involved in seafood retail for eight years. She has a great passion for her job and wants to help people to love fish and understand its qualities and how easy it is to cook and prepare.
“I have two young kids and I understand the pressures of juggling work and home life and ensuring your children are eating healthy food,” she said.
Her husband, George Stephens, the current Young Fishmonger of the Year, is to study a range of innovative seafood retail and food service establishments in London, seeking ideas on how to further develop his business.
One of the finalists in the Supermarket Seafood Counter category is Katarina Curmova, Dunnes Stores, Longford. She is originally from Slovakia and has lived in Ireland for the last seven years.
Katarina enjoys her work as she gets to express her artistic side through her counter displays. She also helps customers with their seafood choices.
She believes the counter presentation is very important to drive sales. “A well-displayed counter will attract customers as it is a well-known fact that we eat with our eyes,” she said.
Another contender is Alona Dutchak, Dunnes Stores, Childers Road, Limerick. She is the daughter of a fisherman in her native Latvia and learned a lot about seafood from a young age. Some people come in for a specific type of seafood. But if it is not available, she always offers them a similar product. She encourages them to ‘buy it and try it’ Alona is passionate about healthy eating. She explains the benefits of fish oils to customers and how to cook seafood so as to retain the maximum nutrition.
Anthony Murray, Dunnes Stores, Terryland, Galway, has a lot of experience of the seafood sector, having worked on fishing boats and for fish processors in his native Mayo and in many Galway city restaurants. The Terryland store stocks a wide range of fish from old favourites including mackerel, whiting, salmon, cod and hake to the more adventurous monkfish, tuna and swordfish.
“We get an older age group of customers in store so they tend to go for the old favourites but I try and encourage them to try different types of fish,” he said.
In the same category is Eimantas Zvirblis, Donnybrook Fair, Malahide, Co Dublin. He enjoys sharing fish recipes with his customers. “It gives me great pride when people come to the store specifically to see me,” he said.
Eimantas believes in his product and eats fish seven days a week. “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,” he said.