Sprats are proving to be one of the niche success stories of the fish industry.

The species, which is one of the least well-known oil-rich fish, is proving popular across the UK, with an 80% increase in retail sales in the 52 weeks to October [Nielsen]. The sprat season kicks off in the south west of England this month.

UK consumers now spend £405,000 per year on sprats, nearly double the 2005 figure of £226,000. Sprats are members of the herring family, and are packed with nutrients. They have also been recently championed by celebrity chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Mitch Tonks.

Almost exclusively caught off the coast of Devon and Cornwall from November to January, sprats are a plentiful, fast-growing species. A small fleet of UK sprat fishermen is dedicated to ensuring a sustainable supply of sprats. The Devon Sprat Marketing Group is currently applying for MSC certification, and some members are already part of the Responsible Fishing Scheme. New products, such as breaded sprats, have recently been developed by south west company Paramount 21 (marketed as ‘whitebait’). M&J Seafood is also selling sprats whole in 1kg packets.