The power of ‘reality’ seafood

I’ve been leading an “Eat More Fish” campaign in Scottish high schools, as part of a government pilot project designed to do just what it says. It’s not always a rewarding task when so many kids’ instant reaction to fish is, “We don’t like it.” But there have been converts, especially to mussels, and a few kids are even up to date on the sustainability message.

Faced with blank faces at the start of each two-hour class, an ideal opener is to ask if anyone knows anything about fish and fishing. Without exception, they cite the Discovery Channel’s popular “Deadliest Catch” program as their source.

The show was launched as a documentary special and was so successful that a series was immediately commissioned. Viewers loved the real danger it portrayed, and they loved the fishermen, who were unlike any other characters on TV at the time. They have since been joined by ice road truckers and lumberjacks, all equally “hard” men and women. “Catch Kitchen” is the latest development, which attempts to turn the “Deadliest Catch” fishermen into chefs.

BBC-TV has its own “Trawlermen” program about North Sea fishermen. Now in its fourth season, the show is also popular. Viewers relate to the fishermen, read their blogs, join their fan clubs, send them letters and gifts and even visit them in the port of Peterhead. And the fishermen love it. One admitted to receiving money in the mail from a pensioner, because she felt sorry for him experiencing a run of poor catches.

Another reality series being re-shown on British TV portrays teenagers thrown into a working environment in a third-world country to experience the lives of workers providing the food and products that they eat and use every day. Episodes have included life on a tropical shrimp farm and in a tuna cannery, where the youths were horrified by the working conditions and pay. Local workers, however, all seemed cheerful and pleased to have a job, and the hygiene conditions looked spotless. It all depends on what you are used to.

Discovery has gone one better with its “Dirty Jobs” program, which has featured during its long run a geoduck farmer, mussel farmer, shrimper, crawfish fishermen and a salmon carcass counter.

But do such programs increase seafood sales, or do they help drive up seafood prices?

It is difficult to tell, but positive profiles are always good for the industry. They certainly increase awareness of the conditions in which seafood is caught or farmed, and those working in industry are seeing a growing respect from the public for their work. They also help temper the misinformation and generalized hype put out by the rich, powerful environmental organizations, particularly U.S.-based ones.

So please, TV producers, let’s see more real-life industry getting air time.

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