Hugh's Big Fish Fight

Updated on 12 January 2011 | 0 Comments

"I've seen hardened men with tears in their eyes as they threw fish after fish over the side of the boat because the current law says that's what they have to do." HFW

While every conscientious shopper and armchair campaigner carps on about the nebulous concept of ‘sustainability’, there is a much more immediate problem in our waters. To prevent over-fishing, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) enforces catch limits on fishing vessels. Makes sense, no? Well, no – it’s not quite as straightforward as that. The Total Allowable Catch only restricts how much fish is landed – not how much is caught. As a result around half of what is caught in the North Sea is thrown back dead or dying, and we waste a million tonnes of fish each year.

Ethical food campaigner-in-chief Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has spent three months trying to find out more about this problem. In one day’s fishing he calculated that they’d ‘discarded’ enough fish to feed 2000 people. And that’s just in one boat.

So on Tuesday he headed to Westminster with the sole intention of showing just how many people could be fed with fish that would otherwise be floating belly up in the sea. Many of these were species that you rarely, if ever, find on your fish counter – sprats, capelin, coley and gurnard; delicious, plentiful and, disgracefully tossed away every day.

“What I found out is that this problem isn’t just bad, it’s mad, ” Fearnley-Whittingstall told a chilly Westminster crowd. “I’ve seen hardened men with tears in their eyes as they threw fish after fish over the side of the boat because the current law says that’s what they have to do.”

Jason Parrott, skipper of a Ramsgate-based vessel and proud owner of some terrific fish tattoos on his earlobes, is understandably angry about the situation. “Throwing away even one fish is one too many as far as I’m concerned. The whole system has to change.”

It’s a system which currently – and fairly – says that a vessel that has reached its quota of, say, cod, can continue to fish for other species. Inevitably cod are still caught in their nets, but, hamstrung by law, the fishermen are legally obliged to toss the moribund fish back into the water. This profligacy isn’t the fault of the fishermen, who have to make a living – it is bonkers EU legislation.

Although Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon has vowed to go to Europe and fight for a new Common Fisheries Policy, HFW insists that, ultimately, it’s up to us. “We need to keep the pressure on our politicians and on our supermarkets. When the public realises what’s at stake, they may be prepared to make some changes.”

All things considered, what’s at stake is fairly simple. “If half the fish we catch goes back into the sea dead, we don’t get to eat it, and [the fishermen] don’t get to make a living,” concludes Fearnley-Whittingstall. “But, perhaps more important than either of those things, is that hundreds of thousands of fish are then killed for absolutely no reason at all. That has to end.”

Join the fish fight now.

Also worth your attention:

Sustainable Fish

Fish labelling

Heston, Gordon & Jamie start a fish fight with Hugh


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