At one point in January, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was on the verge of tears. In his hands he held an enormous freshly caught cod – a species under severe threat from over-fishing – which he was forced to throw back into the sea, despite the fact that it was already dead. “It’s like two large lebs of lamb!” he wailed. “It’s like a whole sirloin of beef, and it’s going back into the sea… it’s insane!”
This was, of course, a scene from Fearnley-Whittingstall’s three-part mini-series, ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight’, part of a season of shows designed to highlight the dismal state of the fishing industry worldwide.
This particular programme focussed upon the EU fishing quota initiative which was created to protect fish stocks, and currently prevents fishermen from landing more than a certain weight of cod per year. However, as many boats work in mixed fisheries, they are unable to avoid catching cod and are forced to throw back any surplus as ‘discard’. The waste is astounding, estimated at half the annual total catch in the North Sea.
Although fishermen argue that cod is in plentiful supply and protection isn’t needed at all, the science doesn’t back this up. The recent increases in cod simply shows that they are beginning to recover – very slowly. Fearnley-Whittingstall argues that a different kind of system could both protect cod and stop the enormous waste.
Fearnley-Whittingstall also highlights the destruction wrought by large scale tuna fishing, in which nets of up to one mile are used to catch whole schools of tuna, trapping sharks, turtles and dolphins in the process. In particular he criticises Tesco and Princes, who use this method while at the same time claiming to support the marine environment.
Finally, he examines the salmon farming industry, where three pounds of wild fish is needed as feed to produce one pound of salmon.
It’s not all bad news. The Fish Fight campaign has already had some success, with Tesco switching all its own brand tuna from destructive net catching to pole and line methods. The petition to change the current EU quota system already has almost 500,000 signatures and the current UK fisheries minister is committed to the cause. Also, less popular fish, such as pollock, mackerel and sardines are cheaper, which can only be good news for students. For sustainable fish recipes, or to sign the petition, go to www.fishfight.net.
Author: Hannah Meaney