WHITBY and district - and now the whole nation - is fighting to safeguard the future of the fishing industry as well as put an end to Brussels’ controversial discard system.
The Whitby Gazette launched its Fight For Our Fleet campaign back in October as a result of the four Whitby trawler skippers who land their fish in the town saying they could be forced to give up for livelihoods for good.
And now celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has appealed to Whitby and district to back his Fish Fight campaign which has gone global since airing on Channel 4 last week.
He has enlisted celebrity friends, including Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal, to highlight the problems facing the fishing industry, particularly the waste discard system.
He is calling on Brussels to end the system and also wants the whole country to try to change their shopping habits to try other fish, rather than rely on cod, tuna and haddock.
As thousands of people have already signed our Fight For Our Fleet campaign, the nation has really backed his Fish Fight and there are already more than 500,000 signatures.
But why did the chef from Devon decide to embark on his crusade?
He told the Whitby Gazette on Tuesday: “As a keen fish eater, restaurateur and conservation-minded angler I have felt for some time that the problem of diminishing fish stocks is not one we can afford to ignore.
“And as someone who regularly catches and cooks fish on television, I felt it was time to become part of the solution, or risk becoming part of the problem!”
And feedback received by the Whitby Gazette online and on our Fight For Our Fleet Facebook page suggests the whole town is behind Hugh’s efforts.
But that was not necessarily totally true when details of his Fish Fight were initially revealed in the national media at the time of our meeting with MEPs and Whitby’s skippers last October.
The front page of the Independent showed an old picture of skipper Richard Brewer at sea with the inference that it is the nation’s fishermen, including Whitby’s, that have contributed to the fishing problems – strongly denied at a meeting with MEPs at The Ship pub.
But Hugh is unequivocal in his support for Whitby and the nation’s fishermen.
He said: “Fishing is a tough and honourable way to make a living.
“Requiring fishermen to throw away half their catch is not only an insult to their hard work, it completely undermines the credibility of a system that is supposed to have conservation at its heart.
“Having said that, I believe any lasting solution can only come from a genuinely open-minded conversation between fishermen, politicians and scientists.
“In the end, we all want the same thing – sustainable stocks of fish that can feed our society and provide a living for our fishermen, not just today but in the future.”
But does he think local and national publicity can really make a difference?
“I do, and in two particular ways.
“Firstly our petition to end discards now has more than half a million signatures – that’s a difficult number for politicians to ignore.
“And in fact, Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime affairs, has already acknowledged our campaign, and gone public on her own commitment to end discards as part of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.
“That doesn’t mean the campaign is over, or that we can relax – we’ll need to keep the pressure up right until the moment we see new and effective policies in place.
“Secondly, I hope the campaign will help those who are keen to shop and cook fish more responsibly to forge a new and sustainable relationship with fish.
“The early signs are good, with most of the supermarkets reporting an increase in demand for the species that, though lesser known, may be.”
Thousands of people have now signed the Gazette’s Fight For Our Fleet campaign and we are sending out new petitions nearly every day.
And momentum is rapidly building with the Fish Fight campaign.
Hugh, who was embarrassed to say he has never visited Whitby – although he does aim to do so – said researchers for Channel 4’s Fish Fight series had visited Whitby with a view to it featuring in the series.
He added: “We gave serious thought to doing some filming with the Whitby fleet, and one of our researchers spent some time there.
“We could certainly have told part of our story through the experience of Whitby fishermen.
“But you can’t always do everything in these shows or you would never get them edited and delivered.”
So while he has not visited the town and spoken to its fishermen and their families, he is all too aware of the issues facing Whitby and district but is under no illusions that we can all help to make Brussels sit up and listen.
“The best thing local businesses who use and sell fish can do is try and make more use of the non-quota by-catch species being caught by the Whitby fleet.
“This won’t help with the problem of over-quota discards such as cod and haddock.
“But a significant part of fish being wasted comes from species that could be landed if there was a market for them.
“To be honest I know more about what these species are in the south west – dabs, pouting, flounder, gurnard – than in Yorkshire.”
There are so many ways we can all do our bit to try to make the decision-makers in Brussels sit up and take notice.
Sign up to our Fight for Our Fleet campaign – petitions are available to sign in our offices in Bridge Street or we can send you one, just email us at: email@example.com
Sign up to Hugh’s Fish Fight by adding your name to his petition at: www.fishfight.net/sign-up/
You can also join our Facebook Fight For Our Fleet fan page as well as Hugh’s Fish Fight with details of all the latest developments.