Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Fish Fight: Game Over

Hats off to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and his campaign to end the dumping of dead fish. In a few short months, the power of one celebrity has done more to shift the debate over fishing than a decade of argument, and a fine campaigning book and film by the journalist Charles Clover. Last night, on Channel 4 news, Fearnley-Whittingstall proved he is more than a pretty-boy chef presenter by turning up and having a debate with Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. The chef came out well.

Essentially, by making the discussion about how Britain and Europe fishes so public he has reminded citizens that the fish belong to everyone, not just those who have historically scooped them out of the sea. And if we don't stand up for our rights to a rational fishing policy, we will never get a deal that means our children will have access to the same marine wealth that we do. Although the buzz-word is "sustainable use", it basically means not stealing from the next generation by taking too much today.

Mr Armstrong revealed a little secret when he complained about proposals to ban the dumping dead fish as unworkable in various ways. In The Times today he reveals the policy would only be compatible with a "fleet that's a fraction of the size it is now". In other words, Mr Armstrong is opposed to any policy that will reduce the number of fishing boats, and jobs for fishermen--which his organisation represents.

Mr Armstrong and the Scottish Fishermen are, of course, entitled to their opinions. But thanks to the campaign, and the opinions of the broader public, the day is rapidly approaching when the fishing industry is simply told it is 'Game Over'. An industry that is subsidised by you and I to cause havoc in our oceans.

Fishing boats are far more capable than they used to be, thanks to new technologies. So we need fewer boats and fewer fishermen than we used to. I can't imagine any other industry insisting on its right to remain stuck in the previous century and getting away with it. If a less damaging fishing industry means fewer jobs for fishermen, this is unfortunate but necessary.