Herring hype

The media circus round the official start of the herring season is pure marketing hype, writes Robin Pascoe.

Every year it is the same when the official herring season starts. Before the first fish is officially sold, the experts declare this year’s fish is ‘fatter than last year’ and of ‘good quality’.
Then we have the front page photographs of the beaming person who has donated tens of thousands of euros to charity by buying the first barrel of Hollandse Nieuwe – the first fish of the new season. The fact that the fish was caught weeks ago and deep frozen until this particular moment is by the by.
Then there are all the Hollandse Nieuwe parties with even more photographs – this time it is ministers holding the tails and sliding raw fish down their throats, and saying how delicious it is.
Then there comes Vlaggetjesdag – the day of the little flags – which is supposed to hark back to times of yore when the herring fleet came home. Now it is a nice excuse for even more front page pictures, this time of Scheveningen and people in national dress. Forget the fact the fish were caught by massive trawlers and have been in freezers for weeks. Fishmongers advertise their supplies as being ‘fresh from the knife’. After all, fresh from the sea would be a lie.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with ritual or a bit of theatre, but the way the fish board works to preserve the mystery of the new herring season is nothing short of fanatical.
Shopkeepers who decide to sell the fish before the official start date face fines of up to €11,250 – a fine so extreme it would not be levied on someone selling food which was unfit for human consumption.
But fishmongers do what they are told and the rest of us wait meekly until the fish board tells us we can eat them. The humble herring is a symbol of national pride and everyone is quite happy to play the game. And big money is at stake. We will spend some €150m on 85 million fish this year, says the AD newspaper.
But after all that, is it worth it? Laughingly, we call it Dutch sushi. But to many foreigners being able to enjoy eating raw, salted herring is like being a member of an exclusive club. A club which only the truly integrated can join.
Robin Pascoe is a founder of DutchNews.nl and after 25 years in the Netherlands still does not like raw herring

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