Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Cod Blimey, Hugh Must Be Joking!!

Well, for some of us it has been a long time coming, but it looks like the wider media is embracing the considerably huge issues facing our oceans. Firstly I have to say what a great job Martin Clunes' team did of the Man to Manta documentary that aired last week. It is difficult to get a balance of something that is amenable to the layman, making something punchy and entertaining, as well as getting the more pertinent facts across in an accurate manner. No doubt writer Tim Ecott's involvement had a very positive impact on the overall production.
This week Channel Four is airing a number of programs by popular TV Chefs who had mostly been associated, at least by the pro ocean lobby, of being the source of all man-evil when it came to desirable fish recipes knocking a hole in our more exotic stocks. This time though, and no doubt a lot to do with campaigning by us conservationist folk, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay as well as some lesser know kitcheney types take on the behemoth of Fishery Sustainability. It is greatly heartening to see, as the uber trendy chef-meisters have been stuffing De rigueur recipes for endangered fish species down our throats like vol-au-vents into the truly bloated.
The leader of the campaign so far is the king of the cottage garden Sir (let's hope) Hugh. In the first program he took to the high seas with Scottish trawler men and witnessed first hand the ridiculous and wasteful practise of discards. Absurd and stupid have long been bywords associated with the EU cure-all response, the dreaded Quota system. In the eighties there were butter mountains, meat piles and milk lakes. Today's equivalent are fisheries discards, where each fish over that species' quota has to be thrown back to sea, very dead. Unfortunately trawling doesn't lend itself to selective capture and when the trawler men go about making their living catching species they do have quota for, the inevitable consequence is that the more abundant species that filled the quota levy first soon reach a high rate of discard. In the most mind boggling scene all the discards from a short two hour trawl are held in baskets before being thrown away. The fishermen add up that over the entire voyage they will throw away about £35,000 worth of fish. The annual tally for discards is said to reach as high as a million tonnes. The trouble is it is a mountain that no one can see. Until now.
The most welcome section of the program was when Hugh and Co decided to tackle the consumer end of the equation, the good old British fish and chip shop. It is true indeed that until demand for the at risk species wanes, there will always be a problem with sustainability. Hence Hugh's campaign to get more sustainable fish to replace the dearly loved Cod and Haddock. Enter the Mackerel Bap. It's an unfortunate word, Bap; somewhat comical, two parts smutty and one third ridiculous. I hereby request that the name of the Mackerel Bap be changed to Hugh Burgers.
Tonight's program dealt with the more spiny issue of Tuna. During a widespread and ongoing conservation war upon the consumers of Tuna, it was a welcome relief to see the program tackle this issue. Some great footage of highly damaging purse seiners was followed by some beautiful underwater footage of those friendly Maldivian Manta Rays (and Guy Stevens, again! Well done Guy) and other species at risk from damaging fishing practices. The issue of Fish Aggregation Devices was tackled as well as a superficial investigation into how bycatch ends up in the Tuna crop. We later get to see a clip of a Tesco offical denying what his distant fishing crew claim, that sharks, turtles and dolphins end up in the catch despite the supermarket's claims that they operate with their best conservation interests at heart.
The answer, it already seems plain, is not to avoid the target species, it is how the target species might be caught without damaging those that we must leave in the environment to reproduce. This is a fight that has been brewing in societal backwaters for some time and hopefully after this significant campaign on mainstream TV it is a fight that will come out in the open and rage on for long enough for something long lasting and positive.
When I was watching the team of pole and line fishermen on the barge in Mozambique hauling out their highly selective catch, I suddenly envisaged an answer to many a problem. We could send all ASBO holders and the long term unemployed out on Scottish fishing vessels to catch Cod and Haddock on hand lines. Surely then the quotas would take a lot longer to fill and discards would be reduced to zero. No..that's too politically incorrect..isn't it?

No comments: