• With a hands-on approach to responsible sourcing, Bartho’s Fish Co. is a favourite among locals…

    In a society that prioritises instant gratification and sees fastest as best, when you walk through the doors of this
    unassuming suburban fish shop you physically slow down, take a breath and subconsciously give yourself permission to enjoy the process.

    Chef Talya Botha (featured in our January issue) operates her kitchen within the Durban North-based Bartho’s Fish Co., and aromas of her Catch Gourmet sauces, perfect to pair with fish, soothe the senses. Owned by equally passionate and pedantic brothers Daryl and Brett Bartho, if they’re not in the shop they’re most likely out sourcing fish while their friendly mom, Sandy, is on the floor.

    Their love of the ocean – nurtured by grandparents who took them fishing every weekend when they were young children – has seen the avid sportsmen achieve national colours for paddling in sprinting, wild water and surf ski disciplines and they also fish competitively. In fact, their current boat was won in a competition and, when they took honours in the same competition the following year, they sold it to set up shop. Bartho’s Fish Co. opened in May 2010 and soon gained a reputation for providing fresh fish of superlative quality…this reputation now extends to the super-fresh sushi that is made to order. Locals fiercely support Bartho’s, and Durban’s top restaurants buy their fish from the brothers who personally deliver. Twice a week one of them heads off to Richard’s Bay to greet the boats as they come in and select fish that meets their exacting standards. Restaurants have their straight-from-the-ocean delivery made en route back to Bartho’s.

    As you might expect from a hands-on business, much like the services of the missed and not-quite-forgotten fishmonger, the brothers will talk you through the latest catches and dispense cooking advice. However, selling fish now comes with a certain level of responsibility and the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) has helped considerably. “There is a definite move towards the everyday consumer being more aware of the pressures on our fisheries. “We are living in an era where most people are looking to be more responsible when shopping and eating out.

    “SASSI has made massive inroads to making all this information available so that consumers are able to make the best possible choices. We also have the handy SASSI pocket guides available for everyone to use and keep with them,” Daryl says.

    “Some species have been saved from over-exploitation by the banning of any capture and through the allocation
    of marine protected areas (MPAs) to provide safe breeding grounds. Carte Blanche highlighted how many
    establishments were selling incorrectly labelled fish products and I think it is up to the consumer to check with their fish shop exactly what they are buying if they cannot immediately recognise it. The more questions a customer asks, the better their own awareness of different products. I think people are tired of having the wool pulled over their eyes when they are paying hard-earned money for these products,” he says.

    When asked if he feels there are any species that are being overfished in KZN, Daryl says he is concerned about kob as it is a species that frequents relatively shallow areas and is often found in big shoals, which makes it very susceptible to over-fishing by recreational and commercial vessels.

    He says it’s also important to demystify the cooking of fish as many people are intimidated. “A friend’s wife was involved with the Auckland fish market and they realised the (consumer) market was saturated and they had to increase awareness. There is a misperception that fish is difficult to cook, especially because it is pricier than other protein. People look at the per kilo rate and immediately think of skinned chicken.”

    Daryl’s favourite fish to eat? “I love cuda or king mackerel. Many people dismiss it as being too dry or gamey but, if cooked correctly, it’s the best eating fish in my opinion. It freezes well too!” On the contentious subject of freezing fish, Daryl has strong opinions. “There is nothing wrong with frozen fish as long as it is freshly frozen or, in fact, labelled correctly. We freeze a lot of the fish we catch ourselves, including cuda, normally regarded as a dry fish. As long as people take care to cook the fish slightly different to that of fresh, making sure not to overcook it, it will be an amazing meal. “I think the biggest problem is that consumers are a bit wary of buying frozen fish because it is difficult to see the quality of a frozen product.

    “Many frozen products are often ‘loosely labelled’, resulting in the consumer being very disappointed with their purchase once they have thawed and cooked it.”

    Another fish Daryl is partial to eating is tuna and Bartho’s is in the enviable position of being able to supply customers with export quality. “A mate owns a couple of vessels; they are agents for the boats and export. The majority of smaller fish don’t make it for export so they make them available to us. We choose the best fish for the restaurants and obviously ourselves. He does however prefer the big-eyed tuna to the yellow fin tuna as it is marbled with fat, resulting in a creamy, smooth taste. “It’s not farmed; it’s fully organic and contains fat because it’s a healthy fish. It also eats a lot of omega-rich food. I could eat tuna until it came out of my ears,” laughs Daryl.

    He concedes that as much as fish shops attempt to educate customers, consumers need to make a concerted effort to be aware of fish stock depletion and keep up to date with the ever-increasing sustainability issues facing our fisheries. “Many people move towards a more ‘fashionable’ or sustainable choice when educated on certain products. I think we are all to blame for being a bit lazy and not looking at trying new things. There are plenty of suitable substitutes when it comes to purchasing with sustainability or the environment in mind.” Bartho’s Fish Co., Shop 7, 8 – 12 Mackeurtan Avenue, Durban North. 031-563-7534; www.barthosfishco.co.za

    Send the name of the fish as a text message to 079 499 8795 to find out where the species is on the list, as well as some additional information such as minimum size and bag limit in the case of line fish. The SMS is charged at standard cellular rates.