Restaurant operator Fish plc today revealed that interim group turnover for the six months to 30 April increased by 40% since the same period last year, to £8.408m (US$11.7m).

Group chairman Tony Allen commented: "We have had a strong start to the year and are increasingly confident of the strength of the Fish! brand which continues to receive recognition and acceptance as we expand into wider geographical locations."

Group operating profit increased to £0.601m from £0.071m during the six-month period, and its specialist food preparation division Cutty has continued to underpin growth. Profit before tax was £615,000, down from £759,000 in 2000, but earnings per share increased from 1.75p to 2.41p. The Board has decided to pay a final dividend for the year-end after a further six months' trading.

The Board also welcomed Paul Gilligan in the role of CEO with immediate effect. Gilligan, who joins the group from Pizza Express, has already overseen the expansion of the Fish! concept beyond London into the provinces.

Within the core Fish! business, turnover increased by 168% during the period, to £3.604m, and operating profit was up 190% to reach £0.862m. Allen commented: "The industry has experienced a notable fall in domestic custom and tourist numbers to the London restaurants in particular, as a result of the foot and mouth epidemic.

"However, we are particularly pleased that we have been able to achieve our sales and profit targets in spite of these unforeseeable factors and are confident that levels of trade will be maintained over the coming months."

The latest openings in New Kings Road and Blackheath, London, are outperforming forecasts and those in Putney and Leeds are performing in line with expectations. The Battersea unit is performing on a breakeven basis, and will continue to do so as it is refocused as a training academy for staff.

Speaking of the future prospects for the company, Allen commented: "The continued expansion of Fish! nationwide is the primary focus of the Group going forward and the site pipeline has already been secured for 2002 and beyond," he added. The group aims to control 16 restaurants by the end of the financial year in October.

"The Directors remain confident that Fish! is well placed to maintain its growth momentum over the months ahead," he added, "and [we] are confident of a positive result for the full year".