TV chef: Crazy fisheries policy must be reformed
by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
As the European Commission announces its plans to revamp the Common Fisheries Policy, the TV chef and Fish Fight campaigner explains why reform is essential
After 12 hours steaming overnight through a force-nine gale, we arrive at the fishing grounds, 80 miles west of the Shetlands. I have just about managed to keep my dinner in my belly, hunkered down in my cabin, and now out on deck it is calmed to a mere force six.
I am on board the Seagull, a 400-tonne Scottish trawler, and we are about to start fishing for monkfish, megrim and ling. We do not want to catch any cod, because the Seagull's cod quota ran out months ago. And so any we do catch will have to be thrown back as discards.
This much I understood before I came out – and although I also understand that this is part of a European Union effort to safeguard stocks, I am already clueless how such waste could be allowed.
"Trouble is," skipper Gary Much warns me, "You can't just put a sign up on the nets saying 'no cod today'." And what a pity that is. Because after the first five-hour trawl, as the nets come up, I see them bulging with cod. I quickly realise that there is more cod here than any other species.
Down in the hold I lend a hand on the conveyor belt, helping the crew gut the fish. There's some lovely big coley here – scant consolation, though, because the trawler has already taken its quota. So for every fish we are able to keep, it seems to me that another half dozen or so are carried on down the conveyor belt to the discard shoot. Down they go, dumped back in to the sea. Dead.
Over one million tonnes of fish are being dumped in EU waters, dead, every year because of crazy EU rules. The Fish Fight campaign is on a mission to end this insanely wasteful practice of discarding thousands of tonnes of fine edible fish at sea.
This scandalous activity, which fishermen, conservationists and the fish-eating public all abhor, is the final insult of a Common Fisheries Policy that is universally agreed to be broken, and no longer fit for purpose. Even Maria Damanaki, the European Commissioner in charge of our seas, has admitted that the current system is broken.
But in order to implement a fundamental reform, which will deliver real change, she needs support. And the best way to do that, I believe, is for the general public to say that discarding fish is unacceptable. And I do not just mean a few "tut tuts" in the supermarket aisles. I mean an expression of sheer outrage across Europe.
I managed to get this issue out there on our television screens in the UK as part of Channel 4's Big Fish Fight. I also launched an online petition calling for an end to discard and am delighted with the amount of public support that the Fish Fight campaign has generated in the UK. We currently have over 685,000 signatures supporting our online petition but we must not stop here.
If we really want to change EU policy, we need support from all across continental Europe. We need to make this loud enough so that all the politicians across Europe will have to listen, and will have to do something about it. And that is where you come in. We need more sign-ups, especially from people in countries other than Britain. So please sign my petition at fishfight.net and spread the word about the campaign to your friends, family and colleagues.
On May 31 the Fish Fight Campaign officially launched in Europe. Damanaki joined me to unveil an interactive statue with a live counter outside the European Parliament in Brussels. The counter shows, in real time, how many people across Europe have signed the Fish Fight petition.
We want to give the whole of Europe a voice to help end discards. Let's keep shouting about the Fish Fight, for a sane and sustainable future to our fisheries, and for good food, from a well-nurtured Ocean, for our children, and our grandchildren.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a British chef, food writer and campaigner
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