World first as Devon seafood is canned

Tins of seafood in colourful cardboard packaging.

The colourful packaging uses paintings by Mitch’s artist wife, Penny Tonks. - Credit: Rockfish

Seafood supremo Mitch Tonks has come up with a new store cupboard staple, which is a world first, writes CATHERINE COURTENAY 

With their rich, bold colours, and striking designs, there’s no hiding away these foodie products – a new, premium range of canned British seafood. 

Rockfish Tinned Seafood is a world first, a unique British product, and it’s the latest project from seafood supremo Mitch Tonks.  

Cooked mussels open in a tin.

The range includes Lyme Bay Mussels in Escabeche. - Credit: Rockfish

The tins certainly stand out from the crowd. The colourful packaging uses paintings by Mitch’s artist wife, Penny Tonks, and includes an ink-black Brixham cuttlefish design, a vibrant red Lyme Bay Mussels in Escabeche tin and underwater blues and greens for the mackerel design. 

What’s inside is quality seafood, caught off the south coast of England and carefully preserved by an artisan canning factory. 

The idea of producing a tinned seafood range, using locally caught, wild fish, had been floating around for a while, but lockdown provided Mitch with the opportunity to give it serious consideration and before long a plan had been hatched. 

It wasn’t the only project to evolve at this time – there was also a new Rockfish book, along with an overhaul of its restaurants. 

“It’s what happens when you have an untamed mind and space to do what you want to do,” explains Mitch. 

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The canning idea originated in Mitch’s visits to Spain, where he would regularly eat tinned fish products. 

Tinned sardines open in the can with yellow packaging alongside.

The idea of producing a tinned seafood range had been floating around for a while. - Credit: Rockfish

“I’ve always enjoyed tinned fish when I’ve been in Spain and Portugal; seafood becomes something else when it’s tinned.” 

Britain has a history of preserving, from pickling and smoking to drying and curing, but as regards tinned fish, that has always been the preserve of its European neighbours. There is no artisanal canning industry in the UK, but Mitch knew of communities on the coast in Galicia where it’s a long-held tradition. 

“The catch had to be preserved. All the ladies of the community would get involved in the canning process and over the years they have developed a perfect way of doing it.” 

It’s a careful process, Mitch describes it as “a sort of magic” where it “improves and changes” the seafood into a new delicacy. But it’s not a method that suits all seafood, like crab he says, which is always better eaten fresh. 

The Rockfish tinned fish is caught off the south coast and frozen at Brixham before being taken for processing at an artisanal canning factory in Galicia. 

As well as tasting superb, tinned fish is a sustainable method of preserving food, often making best use of large quantities of seasonal catch that might otherwise be wasted. 

“It’s eliminating wastage from the ocean and you preserve the fish when it’s at its best,” says Mitch. 

So far there are seven products in the range, including a Bonito tuna – the only fish not to be caught locally. “It’s a bit of a wild card,” admits Mitch. It’s landed in Galicia and caught by hook and line. I wanted to introduce people to a really beautiful, top-grade tuna. But the main thrust of the project is Britain’s seafood being canned and made available in the UK.” 

A man in a blue jacket on the coastline holding fishing nets.

Chef and businessman Mitch Tonks is delighted to have unveiled the rinned seafood range. - Credit: Rockfish

Future plans are to extend the canning project around the UK coast, finding suitable seafood, including cockles and razor clams, locally caught and landed at UK fishing ports, which will then be taken to Galicia for canning under the Rockfish banner. 

The idea is to go direct to the fishermen and it means that each can will be labelled with the name of the individual boat responsible for the catch. 

As regards eating canned fish, Mitch is a full-on fan. It’s a versatile and delicious product, he says. Take the cuttlefish, for example, you can eat it from the tin, or he suggests heating a little bit of olive oil, adding some garlic, then add the cuttlefish and toss through pasta. 

“Tinning fish is such a wonderful way to not only preserve the best of the British and help reduce waste from surplus catches, but to add and infuse extra flavour through oils and sauces,” he says. 

“With this new British tinned fish range, we’re showing that what we have is worth celebrating and getting people eating more of our seafood.” 

Close-up of tinned sardines in a can.

Mounts Bay sardines escabeche in the tin. - Credit: Rockfish