Sometimes the old tricks are the best tricks. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign, launched in three hours of television on the UK’s Channel 4 last week, asks us to sign up to a petition to save the insane waste of fish caused by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. Around half of the fish that are caught in the North Sea are thrown back overboard dead every year because fishermen cannot control which fish they catch and the rules say that when a quota for one species is used up fishermen have to throw any more they catch back dead. But in other parts of the world fishermen land all they catch and the amount of fishing effort is regulated satisfactorily. Why can’t we? EU rules are uniquely bad and need to be changed. Conservationists and industry alike can happily heed that call.
In the time I have been logged on in the past hour, the petition on Hugh’s website has just exceeded 500,000. Already this is a phenomenon. Let’s make it more of one. We, the makers of The End of the Line, sensitized the British public to the issue of overfishing, but here is Hugh harnessing that awareness and giving people something they can do to express their anger. We thought hard, when making our film, about an “ask” which everyone anywhere could do. As our film was global, and not directed at any government in particular, a petition didn’t work for us. Instead we came up with the three “asks” at the end of the film – eat sustainable seafood, tell politicians to respect the science and to support the creation of marine reserves. And we had a bit of fun by inviting people to claim their bit of the sea.
But Hugh’s films are aimed at one nation and at one system of government, the EU’s, so a petition works amazingly well. If you are as clear, forceful, engaging and angry as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and catch the public mood, you can harness votes by the hundreds of thousands or even, let’s hope, millions. Well, he’s caught it and now he needs our help. Forget, for now, the complexities of getting rid of “discards” – the insane practice of throwing away perfectly good fish: it is possible and other countries have done it. Don’t listen to the siren voices of the industry spokesmen who say it can’t be done: just accept that many experts think it can – if we make enough of a fuss. So, if you haven’t already, wherever you are, do sign Hugh’s Fish Fight petition and get everyone you know to do likewise. For fish’s sake.
By Charles Clover