Fish Fight lands its final blow

After almost four years of remonstrating, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign bowed out with the airing of “Fish Fight: Hugh’s Last Stand,” a one-off documentary that mostly tracked back over some of the battles the campaigning broadcaster-cum-chef has had with various sectors and decision makers in the seafood industry.

Fearnley-Whittingstall says he launched Fish Fight in 2010 “to highlight the massive problems facing our global fish industry.” His main aim was to stop the practice of discarding in European waters, so with the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) introducing a phased discard ban from January 2015, he has now brought the program to an end.

As a campaigner, Fearnley-Whittingstall’s most effective engagement tool has been to cause outrage among consumers/viewers with regards to certain products and practices and then to name and shame those corporations (usually supermarkets) that contribute to the problem by sourcing the end products. As the United Kingdom’s biggest grocer, Tesco has come into his firing line on a few occasions, so it didn’t come as any great surprise when he wrapped up the final installment by landing a parting blow on the retailer.

Following the first series of Fish Fight in 2011, which highlighted the lack of transparency in canned tuna labeling, Tesco switched its own-brand canned tuna to 100 percent pole-and-line. However, the retailer simultaneously introduced a budget product from tuna brand Oriental & Pacific (O&P), which contains purse seine-caught tuna. It should also be noted that this brand is also sold in Asda stores.

In Hugh’s Last Stand, Fearnley-Whittingstall described the move as “tragic,” saying Tesco doesn’t want its brand to be associated with purse seining but “they still want to sell tuna caught by environmentally unsound methods.” While the retailer had “fulfilled the letter of their obligation,” he questioned where the “spirit of its promise” had gone.

Adding weight to Fish Fight’s criticism, Tesco is also the No. 1 villain in a new damning report from Greenpeace. It has been named the worst ranked supermarket on Greenpeace U.K.’s new “Tinned Tuna League 2014” thanks largely to having O&P tuna on its shelves. The NGO describes the products as “dirty” tuna — a label refuted by the brand’s owner LDH (La Doria) Ltd., but one that has been picked up by Britain’s mainstream media this past week.

In a defending statement, LDH stated that at least 85 percent of the tuna it sells is fished using the pole-and-line method, while “our O&P brand skipjack tuna is caught using the purse seine fishing method, which accounts for 63 percent of all tuna caught around the globe.”

LDH pointed out that “credible scientific research” shows that skipjack stocks are healthy and that all of its tuna suppliers are members of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) and “support its research-led initiatives for long-term conservation of tuna stocks."

Nevertheless, Greenpeace has put O&P at the bottom of the league table of tuna brands “because it is sourced unsustainably” and the parent company “has no commitment at all to clean up the brand.”

No doubt Tesco will be glad to see the back of Fish Fight, although with Fearnley-Whittingstall previously taking the supermarket giant to task over its chickens (2009), its executives will be anxiously wondering what the topic of his next offensive will be.

Looking back over the course of Fish Fight, there have been a few things that it hasn’t got right and there has often been a distinct lack of solid scientific evidence in its arguments, but a number of major positives have come out of the project. Not only did it bring the subject of discarding to a broader, pan-European audience, it has also sparked meaningful change in Thailand’s shrimp farming industry, in particular the use of trash fish in some of the feeds.

Thai feed and food giant CP Foods, which was targeted as a leading offender in this regard one year ago in “Fish Fight: Save Our Seas,” is changing its ways, explained Hugh’s Last Stand. Through its “CP Fish Fight Ten-Point Plan,” CP is committed to amongst other things using zero fishmeal from trash fish by 2017, and zero fishmeal altogether by 2021. Furthermore, the company is in the process of establishing a fully-traceable supply chain for some of its feed supply, while government-registered boats are fishing in legal waters using larger mesh sizes.

“We are seeing the biggest prawn company in the world changing its practices,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall, adding that he felt it was a result of consumers putting pressure on supermarkets by Tweeting the message “What are your prawns eating?” to the retailers’ respective Twitter accounts.

“That put pressure on supermarkets, the supermarkets leaned on CP, and now out in Thailand things are changing,” he said.

Like him or loathe him, the seafood industry is probably going to be a lot quieter without Hugh.


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