People have been catching and eating fish in Orkney for more than 5,000 years. Much later the islands’ harbours grew in prosperity during the herring boom when fishing boats and herring gutters travelled up the coast to follow the shoals.
Our clean waters and North Atlantic Drift make Orkney a sea angler’s paradise and hand-dived scallops are one of the many shellfish treats you can enjoy here. Crab (known locally as partan) is processed by Orkney Fishermen's Society, the UK's largest processor, and sent south to be stocked by upmarket retailers or to find its way into premium products. But it is available here too, along with other shellfish and whitefish, in local grocery and parish stores.
Fishmongers in Orkney – Pierowall Fish in Westray and Jollys of Orkney in Kirkwall - are the main local purveyors of fish and fish products. According to the season, you will find a large range of fish on sale, from haddock and halibut, to sole, monkfish and ling. You might also discover some less familiar but equally tasty varieties on offer, such as megrim and witch. While the practice of salting fish has died out in most British homes it remains a tradition in Orkney. Fish is either table brined and air dried to preserve it, with herring brined in barrels. Soak the fish, rinse out the salt and serve with tatties for a traditional Orkney dish.
Fish is smoked in Orkney too, including organic and non-organic Orkney farmed salmon, trout, haddock and Arctic char.
Another Orkney tradition is the gathering of spoots (razorfish) - done by hand at low tide and using a long knife. Whelks and cockles are other shellfish collected on the shore and sometimes available in the shops or from local fishermen.