The national Fish Fight campaign spearheaded by British chef and writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and profiled on a Channel 4 program this January has forged a powerful new alliance of businesses, chefs and conservationists – including Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, members of the UK's Food and Drink Federation and WWF - in a battle to stop the enormous amount of fish being thrown back to sea by fishers in the EU.
The public response has also been extremely supportive since the airing, with more than 640,000 names collected on his website in a petition asking that reforms be made to put a stop to the estimated million tons of dead and dying fish that are thrown back by North Sea fishermen each year – up to two thirds of each catch.
Recent footage of a fishing vessel dumping around 80% of its catch, presumably to make room for more profitable species, reinforced the message and drew together this unprecedented alliance to ask for drastic reform to prevent fish stocks from passing point of no return.
“The problem is that in a mixed fishery where many different fish live together, fishermen cannot control the species that they catch,” says Hugh on his website. “Many of the fish thrown back are species that have fallen out of fashion: we can help to prevent their discard just by rediscovering our taste for them.”
However, Hugh’s answer to help ease the problem is also being debated. “Simply encouraging British people to be more adventurous and try new species such as gurnard, coley or dab will not automatically ease pressure on stocks most at risk,” wrote Aniol Esteban, head of environmental economics at the New Economics Foundation in The Guardian last week. “On the contrary, it could result in an increase of total amount of fish eaten.”
Aniol suggests that while creating a market for under-utilized species could be useful to reduce the amount of edible fish being thrown overboard, the priority should be to ensure that unwanted catches are avoided in the first place.
His message is an important one that is often overlooked in the campaign to save our seas: that we need to eat less fish, not simply more sustainable fish, as encouraging people to be creative with their fish choices will not ease the pressure on fish stocks alone.
“Simply bringing new fish species onto the menu without getting core fish stocks back into shape will only take the UK a step closer to becoming a fish-predator nation, such as Spain, Portugal or Japan,” said Aniol, “which all eat a much wider variety of fish but are far from providing models of sustainable fisheries management.”
Find out more about the Fish Fight campaign: www.fishfight.net
Read Aniol Esteban’s article in full here in The Guardian
See the video footage here.