Alan Snow from World Of Fish, Lowestoft with a Rays Bream fish that was washed up on Lowestoft beach.

Is it a halibut? Is it a plaice? Can you solve the mystery of this strange looking fish?

Thursday, December 6, 2012
12.43 PM

AFTER nearly 30 years in the fish trade, Alan Snow knows his haddock from his halibut.

But when a man brought in a strange-looking fish he had found on Pakefield beach, Alan and his staff were baffled.

“We didn’t know what it was,” he said. “It was not a species that I’d ever seen before.”

The unusual catch was brought into Alan’s World of Fish shop at Cooke Road on the South Lowestoft Industrial Estate, by a regular customer who found it floundering in the surf while out walking.

Keen to find out what it was, he took it to Alan and asked if he could identify it. But he had no idea.

Instead, he suggested showing it to staff at the team of filleters who work at a neighbouring business.

“Between them they’ve been filleting fish for about 100 years and in that time they’ve seen all sorts, yet none of them had seen one like it before – that shows just how unusual it is,” Alan said. “One of them said that, although he wasn’t sure, he thought it might be a Ray’s bream – and he turned out to be right.”

The reason that the fish was such an usual sight to Alan and his staff is that Ray’s bream are usually found in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and very rarely stray north into the North Sea.

After speaking to an expert at the Cefas fisheries laboratories in Pakefield, Alan discovered that migrating Ray’s bream are occasionally found off the east coast between November and March. But it appears they can become disorientated in colder water – leading to them being washed up on beaches.

Alan, 62, who set up his traditional fishmonger’s business about 14 years ago and runs it with his son Bryan, said: “I could see that it had that bright silvery look similar to other Mediterranean fish, so I thought that was probably where it came from – it does look different to most of our common North Sea species.

“Bryan thought it had a bit of a piranha-like face because it has a similar sort of jutting jaw.”

Although, according to Alan, Ray’s bream reputedly make “very good eating”, the 1.5kg (3.3lb) specimen washed up at Pakefield will not be gracing any local dinner tables. But it will be doing its bit for science.

The fish has now been put on ice – to await collection by scientists from Cambridge University’s zoological department who will dissect and study it. “They like us to store as many species as we can and then they come to Lowestoft and collect them,” Alan explained. “It’s quite nice to be helping them with their research. We often have 30 to 40 species for them and we’ve had some quite unusual ones in the past including pipe fish, trigger fish and wrasse. But this latest one is the one that’s impressed me most as I’d never seen one before.”