Never mind the pollack

Posted by Willie — 7 April 2009 at 9:49am - Comments

Pollack - creative commons (copyright leibatiheim)
A pollack called Colin... what's in a name?

Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you. Unless you're at the fish counter it seems, where the retailers Sainsbury's have 'renamed' pollack as 'colin'.

No, it's not April Fools' Day - apparently customers had a bit of an issue asking for pollack. I guess in much the same way as Uranus started being pronounced 'Yoo-ran-uss' at some point in the last couple of decades to avoid embarrassment and puerile jokes.

But fish have a long history of being renamed to make them sound more palatable. Many fish are known by different names in different regions, never mind different countries, and any move to try and standardise the nomenclature by resorting to scientific names causes tabloid outrage along the 'political correctness gone mad' line. 

Often in the past, the poor consumer has been duped into buying something they might have balked at by some canny rebranding. Those names often featured some variation on fish they already knew like cod or salmon.

So Hoki became 'New Zealand deep sea cod'; cold-water prawns became 'langoustines'; Patagonian toothfish (not the prettiest of critters) became 'Chilean sea bass'; and the spiny dogfish (actually a small shark) became a fish and chip shop staple as 'rock salmon'. And the delectably cute fish that we know now as orange roughy - which we all know should not be on supermarket shelves as it can't be fished sustainably when it lives to be 150 years old – used to be known as 'slimehead' before they tried to market it.

But back to pollack (Pollachius pollachius). Which should not be confused with pollock  (Theragra chalcogramma), the Pacific species which is now a freezer cabinet staple in fish fingers and served up as Filet-o-fish around the world.

Pollack is a member of the cod family, found in European waters, and is well-regarded in other countries like Germany – but we Brits have never had a taste for it. In the south of England, 'fish' has traditionally meant cod, whilst the more civilised palates in the north and Scotland preferred haddock with their chips.

But as stocks in our traditional fishing-grounds dwindle and we become more aware of the damage that indiscriminate fishing is wreaking on our seas, we are going to have to get used to seeing less well-known species on the fish counter. Things that have been discarded for the seagulls in the past are increasingly becoming marketable. And that's a good thing, we need to be less wasteful, and get used to getting our tongues around gurnard, dab, and ling.

Although of course, they may be called something else by the time they get to the shops.

The renaming of pollack to colin has yet another twist. It's pronounced 'co-lan' like Colin Powell. Which makes you wonder if they polled any customers called Colin before they changed the name…

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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