What are your pawns eating?
HUGH Fearnley Whittingstall's latest television campaign appears to have taken on a little bit more than it can fillet.
Screened in the wake of the ban on discards attracting European Union support, his next mission – Marine Protected Areas – is a tougher cookie to crack, and a controversial one at that. No-one can condone wasting caught fish, and whether it enters the food chain directly – or by being used to feed farmed seafood – makes no odds to many. The issue was already being flagged up, too, but Hugh – as the celebrity chef – got the attention of the nation. It was a winnable campaign, a well-judged and quickly executed success.
Just as former Young's Seafood chief executive Wynne Griffiths said several years ago now, politicians and private companies can stress the importance of eating two portions of fish a week all they want, but a television personality's endorsement will get the message home loud and clear. This was true in this case too. Job done. Well done.
The danger now is that a celebrity is starting to turn against part of the industry that feels the pinch the most. Hugh's Fish Fight seemed to quickly become Hugh's Fight Against Fishing. And the trouble is there is precious little middle ground when it comes to public consensus. It is an industry simply not seen by the vast majority, and as a result not understood. If a national newspaper runs with a headline about one cod being left in the sea, that is taken as the state of it.
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The fact we can drive past lush green fields filled with livestock day in, day out, if we choose, seems to enhance the mystique of our seafood, and therefore the suspicion.
But back to Hugh's new challenge. He wants 127 Marine Protected Areas, or Marine Controlled Zones, call them what you will. Basically, boxes drawn around the UK where fishing is prohibited so the natural environment can prosper. In the past few years I've studied several maps of the British Isles on which boxes have already been drawn, and given names. They vary in location, and are even differing distances from the shore. Here's a few in our area. Lynn, Inner Dowsing, Lincs, Westermost Rough, Race Bank, Humber Gateway, Hornsea … Familiar? I hope so, for they are the operational and planned offshore wind farms to be served out of Grimsby.
Once complete, they will not exactly be easy to fish around, nor is it desired for that matter. Extensive research (if watching Finding Nemo counts) has shown how marine life thrives around old fishing wrecks, so the hundreds of turbine towers that have been piled in won't be too offensive. Give it a few years for the cable trenches to settle and … well … would it be too simplistic to think that these vast areas could serve dual purposes?
Hugh's Fish Fight was criticised for some selective decisions made about facts. Glossing over those that didn't suit the general thread of the argument, seemed to be the biggest issue. Then there was the march on Westminster. It wasn't quite the students or the public sector workers, but enough to be classed as a crowd. Were they made up of the eco-warriors and their offspring I first remember seeing up in trees in Newbury? They were certainly available on a working February day. Did any of them actually eat fish? Summoned by celebrity and social media, and maybe the chance to get on the telly dressed as a mermaid, they converged, probably not fully aware of the science behind the issue.
The rally was followed by an attack on the Twitter accounts of the big retailers when the diet of your average supermarket shellfish was given the Hugh treatment. It was at that point, as his followers turned into keyboard warriors with all the encouragement they needed over the ad breaks to get online, I'd have liked to have asked: "Hugh, what are your pawns eating?"
Thankfully Hugh's own statistics can't be argued with. More than 850,000 supported his discard challenge. The MPA campaign has yet to attract 25,000 signatures, with less than a fortnight to go.
Credit to Dr Paul Williams, the Grimsby-based head of Seafish, who has spoken eloquently and decisively on the issue, but unfortunately, he doesn't have a TV show, cook books to sell or restaurants to fill, so far less airtime has been given to him.