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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Hugh's Fish Fight goes to sea - first hand

Here's what the Guardian said:

It's three years since Hugh F-W decided the planet's oceans were worth saving and started to bang on about fish. In this update he's having a look at what has been achieved. And in the North Sea, the news is good. Well, unless you get seasick – there's a filthy chop off Peterhead today, the trawler Budding Rose is bouncing about all over the place and I'm feeling queasy just watching. It's beautiful though, as are the sad-eyed golden-green cod that spill into the hold when the catch is landed.

The good news is that none of this lot are going to be thrown back dead into the sea. For now it's a pilot scheme and means the Budding Rose has CCTV cameras all over the place (you've got to feel for the poor crew, being watched by Big Brother in Brussels). The fish is even marked "CCTV Cod" in boxes at market; make sure you ask for it in the chippy – large CCTV cod'n'chips please, open, and a pickled free-range happy egg.

Anyway, it marks the start of a ban on discards that will come into effect next year. A dumb European law has actually been changed, by a British TV chef and the hundreds of thousands who got behind his Fish Fight campaign. That's bloody brilliant, moving even. Nice one, Hugh. Maybe nice one you, too.

Here's what Scottish TV said almost one year ago:

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says he is listening to Peterhead skippers angered that his TV show misrepresented them and the UK fishing industry.

Hugh’s Fish Fight dumped the reality of discards right into the living rooms of the public; highlighting the merits of sustainable fishing and calling for action to be taken to ‘save our seas’. His methods however, angered a group of trawlermen who fought back with The Real Fish Fight campaign. The campaigners voiced concerns that the series did not differentiate between the healthy North East sector and troubled markets elsewhere in the country. They also argued that "there are plenty of fish in the sea". Now Hugh says he has been listening to the campaigners' arguments and says he recognises how healthy the north-east industry is. And he has heaped praise on campaign leader Peter Bruce, calling him a "top skipper" and someone who could "lead the UK fishing industry".

Speaking to STV, Hugh said: "I know that Peter Bruce of the Real Fish Fight is one of the top skippers in Scotland and catches great quality fish. He is on the innovative catch-quota system and so doesn’t discard any cod and has an MSC certificate of sustainability for his haddock. "He’s the sort of fisherman to lead the UK fishing industry in the right direction. I think we’ve got a lot in common and I am listening to what the Real Fish Fight has to say. "I do acknowledge that cod stocks are doing well in the North Sea from their all-time low point in 2006 and applaud fishermen and fishery managers for their hard work to make that happen. But looking at all stocks, across the whole UK, it’s a complicated situation. "Our latest series of Fish Fight focused on Marine Protected Areas, and did not discuss fish stocks in the North Sea. We filmed on the Isle of Man – in the Irish Sea – where cod stocks are still in dire straits, and scientists advise that we shouldn’t catch any cod if we can help it. It’s the same in coastal areas of West Scotland."

The fishing industry was dealt a heavily blow when, earlier this year, the Marine Conservation Society demoted mackerel on its list of ethical fish to eat, causing Hugh to ditch his campaign to get "mac baps" into Britain’s chippys. North Sea fishermen met with green groups, WWF, Marine Scotland and fisheries scientists, to find a solution to the depleting stocks and have swapped their nets for different mesh sizes to allow younger fish to escape. Campaign founder and skipper, Peter Bruce, said: "We’re not happy with the way that we have been portrayed. What the programme called facts were just lies. We thought there was such a misrepresentation of the situation; we had to set up on our own.

"There are plenty of fish in our seas. His campaign is all about scaremongering and I know that to be true because every time we take the boat out we can see for ourselves on our equipment just how many fish there are out there. "Fishermen haven't been given any credit for their efforts, and there is no evidence to suggest that by banning fishing in certain areas that fish numbers will increase, or that this will be the best way to conserve."

The fishing fleet at Petehead has fallen from 120 vessels in the 1990s to only 30. Two weeks ago, Peter’s boat, The Budding Rose, hauled her largest ever catch of cod - 30 tonnes in a single net.

Peter added: "I had never seen a catch like that in all my 30 years at sea. The boat’s ram was completely bent out of shape by the weight of the catch - so much so it has had to be removed for repairs to be carried out. "It was taken around 20 miles from closed cod spawning grounds; I had been fishing for haddock. I was in contact with a fellow skipper who was 75 miles away and he was having a similar experience." Peterhead is the UK’s largest white fish and pelagic (mackerel and herring) port and runs an on-site fish market from Monday to Friday. The fishermen claim that cod stocks in the North Atlantic have reached their highest levels for almost 20 years and ships such as the Budding Rose require only a relatively short time at sea to fill their holds.

Peter added: "Some people want the North Sea left as an aquarium and we just can't have that. We would like the scientists to come out with us and see what we are seeing on the grounds. "Hugh’s Fish Fight seems to be motivated by raising his profile and bank balance. In the first series, he did a great job of highlighting the issue and we were all for it but we are not happy at his more recent claims about fish stocks." "The money spent on his campaign should have been spent on scientific research; his measures will not provide a solution, it will only flood the market with products from overseas which have a high carbon footprint." Hugh’s Fish Fight production company, KEO Films, are currently reviewing their options for a follow-up episode of the series, but have not ruled out a meeting between the two fish crusaders.

To find out more about the Real Fish Fight campaign, you can find them on Facebook.