A little help for our scaly friends
A major supermarket made a pledge this week which should make fishermen smile. The promise may also help to slowly change the rather unadventurous eating habits of the nation.
Back in January Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Fish Fight placed a spotlight on the somewhat shocking state of our fishing industry. In particular he highlighted the issue of discards, an unintended outcome of the EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP). The CFP was designed to ‘achieve a thriving and sustainable European fishing industry.’ It sets ‘total allowable catches’ or quotas for the most significant of commercial fish stocks.
This means that when a quota on a certain species, say cod, has been reached in a certain area, it is illegal for fisherman to land any more cod. But most of our North Sea fisheries are mixed, leading to a catch 22 situation which sees fish being thrown back into the sea. Dead. And the issue isn’t simply a few extra fish - it is thought that around half of all fish caught in the North Sea are discarded.
Whilst the quota system is believed to have improved stocks, throwing tonnes and tonnes of perfectly good dead fish back into the sea hardly represents a ‘thriving and sustainable European fishing industry.’ It actually means that fisherman must stay out for longer in order to catch double the amount they need to make a living, since they are throwing half of what they catch away. The quota system as it stands then is clearly not effective in stopping fish from being caught in the first place. Reform of the quota system is therefore a key element in the fight to sustain our fisheries. Following the launch of the campaign, the EU fisheries minister has launched a proposal to ban discarding under a reformed CFP and for this, the Fish Fight must be commended.
But policy alone is not enough to save the seas. Many fish are discarded, not because the fishermen have reached their quotas, but because there is only currently a demand for a narrow range of fish (cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns account for 80 per cent of all the fish we buy).
So the news this week that Sainsbury’s will be offering customers who ask for a staple fish an alternative variety for free, must be welcomed. Often labelling or packaging claiming to be sustainable can feel like greenwash, but this scheme must be applauded for its real potential for re-building a sustainable North Sea fish stock.
The Switch the Fish campaign may be a catchy PR slogan, but its core message must be heeded if we want to protect our most popular fish for future generations.