Fish Fight

If your favourite fish is salmon, tuna or cod (yes, sushi-eaters, I’m looking at you), you’re part of the problem.

It’s not so much of an over-fishing problem anymore, since fishers in most countries adhere to strict quotas. The problem is more that the quota system doesn’t really work.

Trawlers go out onto the ocean, drop net and scoop up everything that gets caught in that net. But they can only bring ashore anything that is within their quota. If they’ve already met their quota of cod, and there’s cod in that net, what happens to it? It gets dumped, usually dead, back into the sea. So besides doing absolutely nothing to stop the “overfishing” of cod, it wastes a lot of otherwise edible fish that could be going to feed people. In most cases, UK fishers are having to dump 50% of their catch because they are not legally allowed to bring it onto land. They can still *catch* it, they just can’t sell it.

British chef, TV personality and trouble-maker Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has launched a campaign called Hugh’s Fish Fight in which he is encouraging people to voice their concerns over the EU quota system and discard laws. A recent 3-part series on Channel 4 in Britain demonstrated the ongoing waste in the EU fishery system.

The quota system hurts small fishers even more, since their quotas are already minimal. Fearnley-Whittingstall makes a farce of the system by following a small-scale fisher for the day in a second boat, scooping up what the fisher must legally discard. He also arranges for small fishers in Hastings to come as close to shore as possible to toss their discards overboard – the law says they have to discard the fish before the boat docks, but makes no specification as to how close to shore they must be – then people gather up the fish and it is given away to locals.

The campaign actually has 3 parts – the first, to pressure governments to change the quota system to do away with discards so no fish are being wasted. Second, Fearnley-Whittingstall and his colleagues are hard at work to get people to be adventurous and try other kinds of fish; to move away from the over-fished cod, farm-raised salmon, and tuna with its endangered by-catch (in many places, tuna nets, even those that are supposedly “dolphin-friendly” catch sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins, all of which die before they can be returned to the sea). The third part of the campaign focuses on getting chip shops in the UK to start pushing more sustainable fish like mackerel instead of the bland and over-fished cod.

Tracking down the series is well worth the effort (it may never air here in Canada, and if it does the Food Network will bury in in some crap timeslot in the middle of the night), as Fearnley-Whittingstall also delves further into the tuna issue – comparing sustainably line and pole-caught skipjack tuna from the Maldives with purse-seine netted skipjack from Ghana. He also goes after UK supermarket Tesco when workers from Greenpeace trace a can of house-brand tuna from that chain back to the Ghanaian fishers who admit to catching sharks, sea turtles and dolphins in their nets, even though the Tesco label claims the product is dolphin-friendly.

Likewise, he visits a salmon farm and watches the whole factory-like process (including the sourcing of the food for the feed pellets and the infamous Salmofan colour product to make the flesh of the fish more pink), then compares the system to an organic salmon farm where environmental concerns take more precedence.

At the time of this writing, over 455,000 people has signed on to the campaign, and global guidelines to reduce fishery discards are in the works. Undoubtedly, bureaucracy and red tape will prevail over common sense and logic, but we can hope that the activist’s efforts make a difference. It seems to be working in the UK, at least -the number of fish shops that have started serving mackerel has exploded since the campaign began.

Note – I did not, in writing this review, look extensively into Canada’s record with regard to quotas and discards. I know that on the west coast, our system works better than that of the US with less overall discards, but in terms of the Atlantic fisheries where fishers are catching the same species of fish, I would guess the situation is similar.

Hugh’s Fish Fight on Facebook

Hugh’s Fish Fight on Twitter