What’s your view on Fish Fight

whatThe following are extracts from an article by Bertie Armstrong, chief executive, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation which appeared on Fishupdate.com.

Fishing is a serious business, not least because it quite literally helps to feed the world. 

What is equally important is that our fisheries are managed sustainably. Achieving this aim is a complicated business, requiring scientific fact to guide responsible management decisions.  This is what has been happening for the most part for northern European fisheries based in the north-east Atlantic, with the majority of assessed stocks now recovering. Indeed, fishing mortality is at its lowest level since 2000. The Scottish fleet has contracted by over 60% in the last 10 years in what has proved a very painful restructuring period for the fishing industry. The Scottish fishing industry has also pioneered a whole range of initiatives in recent years to help conserve stocks including technical modifications to fishing gear that have dramatically reduced discards and real-time area closures to protect nursery grounds for fish. This is why we would really like the public to have a realistic view of the fishing industry, which is informed by fact.

Unfortunately, this has most resoundingly not been the case with the latest Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight TV series where it would appear that the public are being well and truly hoodwinked.

In the first episode of this current series we were shown metal contraptions being dragged by tractors across sandcastles on a Weston-Super-Mare beach as a crude illustration what trawling supposedly does to the seabed.  Had the programme’s attractive sand sculpture been constructed beneath the high water mark the first tide would have done a much more comprehensive demolition job on it – the demonstration was literally farcical.

But the starkest illustration of programme quality came from a British Antarctic Survey scientist, who was an unwitting contributor to the Fish Fight when it went to the southern ocean to look at the krill fishery.  The fishery is damaging the ecosystem was the implication drawn by the programme. Well, no actually it isn’t.  Cue Dr Ruth Brown from the British Antarctic Survey and her widely publicised letter to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that was written after she saw how her area of expertise and the fishery were portrayed in the programme. Link to the letter.

Of course, the Fish Fight is colourful and has to this point kept Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and by way of a by-catch, the River Cottage empire, in the public eye.  He is well sponsored – view the website of the philanthropic body the Oak Foundation and you’ll see that his film company KEO involved in the programme received just shy of half a million dollars in 2011 for such work.  And I don’t imagine that Channel 4 is screening it for nothing. But wouldn’t it be much better and more productive for the well-being of our fisheries if such funding went into collaborative research and other projects that actually involve the fishing industry?

In summary, the Fish Fight is lightweight, populist advocacy scantily dressed as science.   But that doesn’t help sustainable fishing – perversely it does the reverse. We are hugely concerned that it provides unwarranted criticism that affects our general reputation in the eyes of the public. 

We would be grateful for any thoughts you may have on it, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall,  the Fish Fight in particular or any other issues around it – please use the ‘Contact Us’ facility.

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