/ Food & Drink

Plenty more fish in the sea? Not any more

Fishing haul

A new report has claimed that, since 1963, cod worth £2.7bn has been thrown overboard due to EU quotas. With such unsustainable fishing threatening fish stocks, shouldn’t we take strident action now?

News that 88% of European fish stocks are being fished unsustainably with 30% close to collapse, doesn’t only mean that our oceans are running out of fish but that billions of pounds has been thrown overboard over the last 40 years too.

But didn’t we think TV chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his friends had won this battle with the Fish Fight campaign?

The announcement made by Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki’s in July was actually only a proposal to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). It included measures to ban discards by changing how fisherman weigh their catch – fisherman will now have limits on how much fish is caught rather than landed. But are proposals enough?

Should we follow science?

Hugh has welcomed the proposals as a step in the right direction, and perhaps ‘steps’ are all we can hope for when revising policies that affect the 141,110 fisherman who operate across Europe. But when faced with new research that shows 30% of freshwater fish face extinction and that species of fish from Newfoundland are only now showing signs of recovery 20 years after fishing bans were put in place, wouldn’t it be sensible to take giant leaps instead?

As the proposals stand, the Commission is just putting off a European version of the crisis we saw off the coast of Canada. Even members of the fish lobby are urging the Commission to follow science and take a more risk-based approach to managing the ban on discards.

Academics and NGOs also argue that the Commission needs to follow the science, not heavily-lobbied politicians, but they want to see fishing bans for certain species and tackle the overcapacity of Europe’s fishing fleet.

Don’t water down the Fisheries Policy

It’s doubtful these ideas will float the boat (sorry, it had to be done) of the fishing lobby – as it is, they argue that the proposals will damage the livelihood of fisherman. But aren’t they failing to notice the crucial element; that they’ll have no industry at all if there’s no fish left in the sea.

The CFP has two years before it becomes law, leaving plenty of option for lobbyists to further dilute proposals. It will be interesting to see how different industries engage with its development.

There have been worthy attempts made by some supermarkets to influence shoppers’ fish buying habits – Waitrose and Co-op have their own responsible sourcing policies and Sainsbury’s fish counter staff are now supposed to offer you more sustainable alternatives if you ask for cod, salmon, tuna, haddock or prawns – but the lack of action by other supermarkets speaks volumes about where their priorities lie.

I hope the Fish Fight campaigners have the gusto to take the influential food and fisheries lobbies. So while the reform to the CFP is welcome, the battle is far from won and the real work for Hugh and other campaigners starts now.


I would rather trust science than commercial interests. We want to continue to eat fish and not just have the great grandchildren hear about them when they visit a museum.

Phil says:
4 August 2011

I don’t know if it was scientists who invented the EU’s fisheries policy but anyone with an ounce of common sense could see that throwing dead fish back into the sea wasn’t going to help preserve fish stocks; quite the opposite. Despite this the EU has pursued this policy with it’s usual bureaucratic single mindedness for nearly 50 years, the evidence of what has happened to fish stocks during that time speaks for itself and yet to date the EU’s reaction has been to keep reducing quotas and increasing the amount of dead catch thrown back into the sea.

Fishermen have been complaining about this for years, maybe, just maybe, if the policy makers had paid a bit of attention to them we wouldn’t be in this situation now.

I find the 30% statistic above very depressing, but what really surprised me was that 88% of fishing is unsustainable. With such an increased awareness of this issue how can such a large percentage of our fishing still be unsustainable? Miranda’s right that front line suppliers (supermarkets/restaurants etc) have to lead the way in offering more choice, but with two years before laws are in place it’s worrying how much more can go wrong before then.

Am I missing something ?

The first line (in bold) of this conversation is “A scientists’ report says that over a third of freshwater fish faces extinction,”

Except for farmed rainbow trout we do not eat “Freshwater” fish in this country .

So what has a report on freshwater fish got to do with sustainable sea fishing ?

Hello rarrar, the Conversation talks about sea fishing in the main, but freshwater stocks are also worrying. However, I can understand that the first sentence might have been confusing, so we have edited the introduction. Thanks very much.

Hi Patrick
Glad to see the editing , however you still come up with the 30% of freshwater fish face extinction statement further down the article – it is completely out of context in article to do with sea fishing, fishing fleets and discard policies.
I feel the statement is being used for scaremongering effect a tactic often used by the popular press when reporting scientific research or suirveys and not one I hoped to see being used by Which?
Come on Which? even though this is only “Which Conversation” and you are trying to drum up debate and discussion we do expect better standards.

Pauline Hopkins says:
6 August 2011

There must be a limit to the amount of fish in the see, but do not let foreign trawlers into our waters so that our fisherman can fish and have what we want.
Stop the EU interferring into our fishing, let our fishermen earn a living.

I’m 50/50 on this.

On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to highlight and stop this, needless waste.
However, my family’s budget head is very aware of the sudden shrinkage in pack sizes and increases in price of tuna by supermarkets.
The basic price of which is now for 3 tins instead of 4, used to be £3, now its £3.50 and if there is no “offer” on as high as £6.99 for two packs.
Fresh fish I buy from my local market, their prices haven’t changed during Hugh’s campaign.

I did ask the Hugh’s fish fight campaign if they were aware of the increases in price supermarkets have brought in since his campaign took off, but received no reply.