Fish Fight campaign launched across Europe


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
May 30, 2011

Taking his high profile anti-discards message to a far wider audience, UK chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has launched his Fish Fight campaign in Europe.

In a bid to intensify pressure on EU policymakers, the Fish Fight campaign took to the steps of the European Parliament on Tuesday.

The move follows swiftly on from the UK launch that has harnessed more than 650,000 signatures in a petition calling for discards to be banned. The petition followed a series of TV programs on Channel 4 aimed at publicizing the issue.

“We need the rest of Europe with us if we’re to change EU policy,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall on Tuesday.

Ahead of a proposal, expected in July, from the European Commission to reform Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy, the practice of discards has been thrust into the spotlight. Discards are fish that are caught, but not retained, during commercial fishing. For a variety of factors, including quota restrictions, the fish are thrown back to the sea. As much as two-thirds of the fish caught in some European waters is thrown back as a result of the EU’s current fisheries management system.

European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki engendered a mixed reaction from stakeholders in March when she proposed to ban the practice of discarding fish at sea.

“The new CFP must become a policy that has sustainability written all over it. If it does not do away with discards, then it will not deserve this name,” she pronounced.

Leendert den Hollander, CEO of Young’s Seafood, was among those who welcomed Damanaki’s efforts in March. “Discards are both a waste of resources and a barrier to long-term sustainability in fisheries,” he said at the time.

The World Wildlife Fund also praised Damanaki’s efforts. “Fishermen have to be made accountable for what they catch. A more flexible management framework allowing innovation and selectivity must be put in place,” said Louize Hill, head of marine and fisheries at WWF’s European Policy Office.

Added Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson, VP of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee, “It was simply not sustainable to pursue a management policy that forced Europe’s fishermen to dump up to 1 million tons of perfectly healthy fish back into the sea dead annually.”

However, Bertie Armstrong, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, referred to the proposed ban as “a knee-jerk response to populist TV coverage” that accurately portrayed the problem but offered no solutions. He called for “a more sensible and coherent approach” to reducing discards.

“There is the real danger that [Damanaki’s] proposals will undo all the innovative work that has been carried out in recent years by the Scottish fishing fleet in reducing discards,” he said. “This has included the use of more selective nets and closed fishing areas.”

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead also expressed concern with the proposed ban. “My concern now is that the EU will repeat the mistakes of the past and put in place more ill-fitting and heavy-handed legislation that won’t solve the problem of discards but make things worse,” he said. “Scotland’s experiences show that behavior can only be changed when government and industry work in partnership, with sustainable fishing practices incentives.

Lochhead added: “A blanket ban on discards wouldn’t be effective or enforceable in any practical way, while further limits on the time boats can spend at sea only encourages high-value stocks to be targeted and caught quickly, instead of more selective measures that protect vulnerable stocks.”

On Tuesday Commissioner Damanaki and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall unveiled an enormous “live counter” at the launch of the European Fish Fight. The electronic counter expresses in real time the number of people signing up to the campaign.

And articulating the message to a broad European audience, the Fish Fight campaign will roll out eleven microsites in eleven different languages, including French, Spanish, Greek and German.

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