“I grew up in a fishing community, my father fished and several of his friends were fishermen – so a passion for the sea and seafood was instilled in me at an early age,” Suffolk-based Mike Warner – seafood ambassador, consultant, artisan fishmonger and champion of British seafood – told Fishing News.

“However, when I reached school-leaving age, my parents told me that I would be better off going into agriculture than fishing.

“So I went to agricultural college and then spent 30 years in farm management consultancy. My passion, however, is for seafood and the fishing industry, and about 15 years ago – I suppose you’d call it a midlife crisis – I reached the point where I really wanted to get back to a stage of doing what I loved as a boy.”

Mike credits his wife Nicola with encouraging him to take a first step into the industry he loves. “Every family holiday was to a fishing port or somewhere near a fishmarket – I just couldn’t get it out of my system.

“My wife said: ‘Why don’t you just start writing about it, and your experiences growing up as a boy?’ So I did – I started writing a blog, which I called A Passion for Seafood, and it was really popular.”

However, it was an article Mike wrote following a trip to Peterhead that led to his move into consultancy. “I wrote a piece called ‘Fishing for the future’. I suppose it got under the skin of the fishing industry up in Scotland, but in a way which was sympathetic to the fishermen and the industry. It told their story, but in a consumer-facing way.”

The article was widely shared amongst the fishing community in Scotland. “People said that I ought to write more – and that’s when I saw a bit of a niche. I carried on writing, and the writing became a consultancy business.”

As well as advising chefs, the hospitality sector and the media, Mike also went on to work with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, travelling the country promoting UK shellfish to British businesses and consumers. “That’s what the consultancy work is about – me in an ambassadorial way connecting people to the British seafood industry, with as much authenticity and integrity as possible. The consultancy work was all going swimmingly well – until the pandemic.”

In response to the working restrictions of the pandemic, Mike set up a wholesale business, A Passion for Seafood Ltd, registering himself as a buyer and working with the local fleet to maintain supply chains during lockdowns. The success of the business spawned a pop-up retail shop, which later opened permanently in Hasketon, near Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Mike also runs A Passion for Seafood Ltd, selling fish wholesale and retail. “People come in, and we encourage conversations about seafood. We’ll prepare it and give tips and recipes. It’s about encouraging people to eat more British seafood, and not spend their money at supermarkets on imported commodities.”

The shop is where Mike normally begins his working day. “We sell fish here three days a week at the moment, because I have consultancy jobs which are taking my time up. We only sell British, seasonal fish. Everything is displayed whole where we can, so customers get to see what the fish looks like in its natural state – which is an education in itself.

“When the boats are landing locally, I’m usually up early, around 4am to 5am. I’ll get market reports from down in Newlyn, where I buy a lot of my fish from. I might also get a text from a fisherman overnight telling me that there’s 100kg of rod-and-line bass sitting on the boat at Felixstowe. So at 5am I’ll be off to go and pick that up, bring it back and get it all weighed. I’ll then go and pick my fish up off Cornwall Transport.

“On a shop day, I’ll set the slab set up, and look to create something really picturesque with the fish – but then most of the time I’ll also be on the phone answering questions. A lot of chefs ring me up and ask what we’re landing. We’ll tell them what we’ve got – and they’ll create their menu, or specials board, around that.”

Mike during a research trip onboard the Cornish hake vessel Ajax PZ 36. Travelling the length and breadth of the country, from Newlyn to the Outer Hebrides, has allowed Mike to gain knowledge from the industry that he can use to educate consumers. “It’s only learning from fishermen and being at the industry coalface that has equipped me with the knowledge to be able to educate.”

Mike, who is also a contributing member of the Guild of Food Writers, combines working at the fishmonger with his consultancy projects. “At the moment I’m up into London once a week having meetings with Wright Brothers. I’m writing a lot of content for them, and we’re developing a new brochure, which I’m quite heavily involved with.

“I also do talks and demonstrations at food festivals around the UK. I’ve worked a lot with CJ Jackson at the Billingsgate Seafood School, and chef Cyrus Todiwala OBE is a great friend of mine. He’ll come down to our local food festival in Aldeburgh.

“I run a little thing called the A Passion for Seafood Stage, which I sponsor, and we have local chefs and celebrity chefs come down. I give them our local species to cook with – and they come up with some amazing dishes.” Despite the heavy workload, Mike says he enjoys every single minute of his change of career. “I’m never going to give this up – retirement is not in it.

“I’ve enjoyed seafood and fishing for so long, ever since I can remember. The industry has given me so much, I just want to pay something back into it.”

For more information, visit: apassionforseafood.com or Instagram: @apassionforseafood

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.50 here

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