Fish fight chef responds

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has responded to skippers who have claimed he is misleading the public
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has responded to skippers who have claimed he is misleading the public

FOLLOWING the publication of the Gazette’s story ‘Skippers declare war on TV chef’ on this week’s fishing page, we contacted Hugh’s Fish Fight for a response from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Here is his statement, published today (22 February), in full:

Dear Fish Fighters, and the UK fishing industry,

I know that a lot of people have been asking questions on Facebook about the first episode of Fish Fight. It’s great that so many people are getting involved in the discussion, and you can be assured that either I, or one of the Fish Fight team, read every comment that gets posted.

There are a few questions which seem to come up again and again, and I want to try to answer some of those things directly.

Some people are saying that our facts and figures are wrong. But the sad truth is that two thirds of the world’s fish stocks are overfished and that in the UK we do only have 0.001% of seas which are entirely closed to fishing. I know that there are lots of other types of closed areas including real time closures and areas closed to only some forms of fishing, but I believe that it is important that small areas of our seas are closed to all forms of fishing so that we have “reference areas” against which the condition of other parts of the seas can be judged. It was initially recommended that among the new MCZs being proposed for England that there should be some fully protected areas, but for the time being it seems the government is not taking any of them forward. Most of the new MCZs will only exclude the fishing methods that could damage vulnerable habitats or species.

Some people are accusing me of not talking to the fishermen enough. In episode one we talked to scallop fishermen in the Isle of Man who are benefitting from their Marine Protected Areas (which they take a very active role in creating and managing), and in next week’s episode we talk to other fishermen on camera. Behind the scenes me and my team have spoken at length to fishermen from all different sectors of the industry, and we have tried to include their views accurately and fairly in the programmes. I understand that not all fishermen are the same, and not all fishing methods damage the marine environment. I think we have been very clear on this point in our films. In programme one we were particularly concerned to highlight the problems associated with scallop dredging, and how they can be to some extent offset by carefully managed Marine Protected Areas. In programme three we’ll talk to fishermen who use static gears like lobster pots and gill nets and find out how they think MPAs can impact on their livelihoods.

Some people seem angry that we are not celebrating the fact that cod and haddock stocks are increasing in the North Sea. Of course it is good news that numbers of these fish, and their respective quotas, are on the up in the North Sea. But the sad truth is that landings in 2011 are still a fifth of the quantity of landings in 1960. So while it is good news that cod and haddock are recovering, there is still a long way to go before they recover to the stock levels of bygone years. We hope that an end to discards - and the current catch quota trials are testing the waters for such a policy – will play their part in recovering stocks to truly sustainable levels.

I hope you enjoyed last night’s programme about the burgeoning krill fishing industry in the Southern Ocean. In programme three I’ll be looking at prawns in Thailand, and leading a march to parliament to demonstrate the burgeoning popular support for more marine protection. I hope many of you will be able to come and join me in London on the 25th, for the march at noon. There’s more information on the march here.

Best wishes until then,