You'll be herring from my lawyer, Dutch fishmongers tell paper

The Hague (AFP) –


Two disgruntled Dutch fishmongers are dragging a national newspaper to court after it accused them of selling "rotten" examples during a nationwide test of the country's favourite snack: raw, salted herring.

Every year from around mid-June, the Dutch consume millions of herring with one of the country's most iconic images featuring a citizen dressed in traditional garb while munching down the small fish.

But lawyers "filed a complaint yesterday (Monday) for defamation, slander and fraud," against the popular daily tabloid Algemeen Dagblad, Michael van Basten Batenburg told AFP.

Batenburg's client Lon Oosterbroek has been fingered by the AD -- one of the most popular Dutch papers -- for selling "rotten", "smelly" herring with "muck" during the newspaper's highly publicised annual herring test.

Some 150 fishmongers around the country are judged by the quality of their product including cleanliness, fat and salt content, smell and taste.

Oosterbroek's fish scored a round zero in the test that has been around for the past 35 years.

Supported by other aggrieved fishmongers, Batenburg based his complaint on a recent report by an economist at the southern Tilburg University who called the AD's test results "unreliable".

Batenburg, who expects an answer from legal authorities within the next month has even suggested that the competition results may have been rigged.

"The fish is judged (among others) by a person who is also hired by at least five herring companies to give courses, and whom in turn feature heavily in the competition's list of top 10," he said.

"This is a war in the world of herring," said Batenburg, who said his client has become the butt of jokes in the town of Zoetermeer, just outside The Hague.

Contacted by AFP and other Dutch media, the AD declined to comment on Tuesday.

The paper did however tell Dutch public radio last week it would "change the competition's format next year" and was confident of a fair judging process.

Its editor-in-chief Hans Nijenhuis told the NOS public newscaster Monday it was not aware of the complaint.

"But we are looking forward to it with confidence, should it go ahead," he said.

Also called "Hollandse Nieuwe" or "maatjes" herring, the fish are caught in the North Sea and processed to a unique Dutch recipe where they are salted in a barrel for one to four days.

It is traditionally eaten held by the tail with the consumer tilting their head back and chomping away.