/ Food & Drink

Will you join the fight to save wasted fish?

Fishermen with netted fish

Are you one of the 500,000 plus people that have been joined Hugh’s Fish Fight? Do you also think it’s wrong that perfectly good fish are being chucked back into the ocean due to EU quotas?

I’m a bit of a ‘greeny’ anyway, so when I caught one of Hugh’s episodes on Channel 4 last week, I signed up to the petition to change Europe’s fisheries policy straightaway.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall wants to end the practise of ‘discarding’, where fishermen throw perfectly good fish overboard (mostly dead) just because an EU ‘quota’ says that they’re supposed to be catching another type of fish.

An average of 7.3 million tonnes of fish are discarded each year simply because they’re unwittingly caught in fisherman’s nets.

Overwhelming support

I was impressed that when I visited the programme’s website thousands of other people felt the same – the website had crashed because of the huge number of people who had been inspired to support the campaign.

I was even more impressed when supporters grew from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands in just a few days. But what really blew me away, and made me realise Hugh was creating real change, was when friends (who usually mock me for my obsessive recycling habits) were talking about sustainable fish in the pub over the weekend.

Plus, in the days since the series aired sales of the ‘alternative’ fish celebrated by Hugh have soared. It seems that, overnight, consumers are suddenly aware of the impact their preference for salmon, tuna and cod has on both fish stocks and the environment. It’s great that people are realising the potential of coley, pollack and sprats, and are more aware of the environmental benefits of buying organic salmon.

Fish stocks still need protection

The only worry is if sales of sustainable fish continue to grow, while our appetite for non-sustainable options remain the same (i.e. we eat more and more fish), we could face the same situation as we saw with Atlantic Salmon in the 1970s – there’d be no fish left to catch!

So while the review of Europe’s fisheries policy should throw out landing quotas and ban discards, it must also protect fish stocks. We need regulations that help the recovery of species in decline, by controlling which species can be caught and when.

So if you want to see fish stay on the menu of your favourite restaurant, join the Fish Fight today and take this op-perch-tuna-ty to express yourself in the comments below.


I have joined the fight against the operation of the EU fishing quota policy.

It is ludicrous to throw back DEAD fish because they are over quota or undersized. It would be far more effective to INCLUDE those dead fish in the quota – remember they are dead – and consequently reduce the current quota by that amount.. That would not actually reduce the number of fish left in the sea, The current policy does – the worst of both worlds.

Doug says:
21 January 2011

I agree too…….

Sophie Gilbert says:
21 January 2011

Me too.

I watch HFW’s programme and with my heart I almost signed up. But then my brain engaged and I thought more about this.

Firstly, why are dead fish thrown back? Answer: because a trawler has reached its quota for that particular type of fish. Catching huge amounts of fish, efficiently, whilst trying to maintain a quota, is not easy. To stop exceeding the quota trawlers will need to catch fish in smaller amounts and gradually build up to their quota so as not to exceed it. Unfortunately, unless you send a man under the water to count the fish entering the nets this is not easy to achieve. So, it can be done, but it takes time and therefore comes at a price A price that will be passed on to consumers. No! cry the consumers, we want cheap fish!

And not all fishing trips end up with over-catch. But the programme doesn’t show you that because that’s not what they’re highlighting.

What happens if the trawlers are allowed to sell the dead fish? Answer: they’ll simply exceed their quotas, shrug their shoulders, rub their hands and say, ‘Whoops, we didn’t mean to, honest’ (or, more likely, ‘[Gritos]. No era mi intención, honesto.’ This only benefits the fleets and doesn’t help the fish. The quotas are in place to preserve fish stocks and prevent the fleets profiting from over-catch.

What if the trawlers are allowed to give the dead fish away? No way, Jose, why would they give away free fish?! They are a business. I’m not entirely sure that the trawler alongside HFW was happy about him taking the dead fish that they had just thrown back.

The only real solution is for fleets to improve the way they catch fish – but fishing on a grand scale is not an exact science. Smaller nets maybe?That’s reducing efficiency and increases costs. We, as consumers, will have to pay more. Are we prepared to pay more?

Whilst it’s an emotive subject we need to think that this practise is there for a purpose. We may not like that practice but let’s think about this objectively without letting the emotional sight of hundreds of dead fish being thrown back into the sea.

Finally, call me cynical, but is this more about HFW and Channel 4 promoting the River Cottage brand?

PS If anyone disagrees with this view there’s nothing worse than someone simply hitting that disagree button. Hit the button, man up and state your argument. Let’s debate this properly.

The throwing of dead fish is bad for the stocks of that species of fish – If Fishermen were really interested in saving the stocks – then they should give the dead excess to OTHER fisherman in the same fishing port. So that the second fishing boat catches less.

I really don’t care if Channel 4 has a motive to publish this – as it is true – It is still wrong to decimate fish stocks. and that is what happens.

The practice of quotas is ill thought out and should be stopped or radically modified.

BTW they can use ultra sound or similar to estimate size of shoals – but they don’t – they simply fish for maximum catch – not minimum impact on stocks – If fact the quotas came about because left to themselves the trawlermen would have fished the seas “dry”.

If that means smaller nets – then so be it.

I’ve joined the Fish Fight campaign – have been saying for years that they need to rethink quotas, it’s crazy to throw dead fish back in the sea. I was discussing this with friends recently and one was questioning why they don’t have annual quotas – that way if they get a good catch they can keep it and when their quota runs out they can’t go out fishing anymore.

As an aside, it is good to see more sustainable fish types being promoted, but there could still be more awareness about them. When do you see coley and pollack being used on TV cookery shows? I subscribe to a monthly food mag and rarely see anything but the popular fish (salmon, haddock etc) being featured in recipes either.

Annual quotas do sound good but how on earth do you make them work in practice without by catch and throwing back dead fish? You can fish for a certain type of fish in an area but there’s no guarantee of not picking up plenty of something you don’t want to – and this is what leads to the awful practice of fish being thrown back in the sea.

Hugh’s intentions are all well and good but I feel his argument is fatally flawed. Actually, can anyone tell me what Hugh is actually proposing as a solution? His own website is pretty non-committal and doesn’t offer anything decisive.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like seeing dead fish being thrown back but what can we really do? I’ve still not read any plausible solutions to this problem other than perhaps introducing a complete ban on trawling saltwater fish to help stocks recover. This would severely hamper HFW’s own objectives: that of promoting healthy fish eating. Isn’t that what some might call a bit of an own goal? How many of HFW’s fans are prepared to stop eating fish altogether to help our vastly depleted stocks recover? Shouldn’t HFW stop serving fish?

steve d says:
22 January 2011


Phil says:
22 January 2011

I’m glad people have woken up to this scandalous waste, I mean it’s only been going on since 1983 and some of us have been complaining about it for years. Why did it take a TV chef to alert Which? to what was going on? The evidence has been there long enough.

Best of luck in persuading the EU to change course, they know the CFP is not working but their only response has been to reduce quotas still further which has resulted in even more dead fish being dumped back into the sea.

So we’re all agreeing with HFW but nobody has any ideas or solutions. Brilliant.

How about lobbying the politicians to get the fishing fleets to improve their trawling methods. That won’t completely eradicate by-catch and the sight of dead fish being thrown back – but it might reduce it (so that doesn’t really fit with HFW’s aims).

Getting the fleets to change their methods will increase costs to them because they’re going to have to be more careful about what fish they catch and importantly, how much. Increased costs = increased prices. Which probably means fish will be accessible to even fewer people. Hmm, HFW won’t like that.

I still want to know what people think should happen to all the fish that would otherwise be thrown back. I’d really love to know because, clearly, I’m missing the point.

Or am I right?

The solution is relatively easy – but expensive – Monitor each catch at port – re-allocate quotas according to ACTUAL catch not EXPECTED catch.

It is time to stop looking at everything in terms of business – as you seem to – but in terms sustainability of fish stock.

Have you signed up yet?

Additional – The actual catch needs monitoring as it is hauled aboard – say by weight – then re-weighed at port. Somehow I think the additional cost would be fairly insignificant overall.. Otherwise there would be nothing stopping greedy business fishermen throwing them back anyway.

The alternative is to ensure all fish are kept alive until after sorting – But – this would be very difficult as many fish get air bladder damage simply by being fished from the bottom and can no longer get back to the bottom and die.

Nice to see some arguments forthcoming at last 🙂

Re: allocating quotas to actual catch. Problem with this is that trawlers will go out and fish as much as they like, without penalty. If you introduce penalties they’ll simply go back to doing what they do now, i.e throw (dead) fish back whilst out at sea.

To police this and to do this accurately would be very costly. The cost can only be passed on to us. Another solution is to have large areas of protected marine zones, but again, to monitor and police this would be expensive, costs either coming from taxpayers or the fishing industry.

The whole economic and moral argument falls flatly and squarely at us, the consumer. If we want better conditions for fish and larger stocks then we, quite rightly, have to pay for it. All of us. It’s the same with cheap battery chickens and cheap clothing. You can’t have your fishcake – and eat it.

However, the price of fish currently is kept artificially low by highly-questionable fishing methods such as pair trawling and bottom (banned in some parts of the world). The problem with this is that poor old HFW wants us all to eat more fish or a greater variety and pricier fish doesn’t help his cause.

I’m all for improving fish stocks and preserving marine wildlife. I just don’t think the method used by HFW is particularly helpful, well-informed or even thought through.

Poor fella, he must be reeling (sorry) at Jamie getting in there first with a celebrity chef campaign.

I don’t think it would be that costly – in comparison to the demise of fish species. Say a 10% rise in fish prices (to pay for the inspector on board each vessel.. It certainly needs to be monitored on board

oh, sorry if I appear like I’m seeing this in business terms. But isn’t that what this whole thing is about – the fishing industry?

Actually no – it is about the demise of fish species. and sustainable stocks

The fishing industry is about making profit from their operations – and they take a short term view.

History shows a large number of species have become extinct through over exploitation.

The fishing industry has proved it is doing the same thing

You mean the fishing industry that comprises fishing fleets, politicians and us the consumers? The same industry that isn’t just about making profits (the business view) but is also having a dramatic effect on marine wildlife (the environmental view)?

Whilst I am completely in support of marine protection and don’t support the practices employed by industry (and I’m including all stakeholders) I’m just providing a view on how the industry will react if HFW gets his way – the results, in my opinion, are not likely to do anything for marine protection and I have yet to hear a convincing argument that it will.

I’m not sure I could make it any clearer (rolls eyes), but, for you, I’ll try:

Fish protection – YES
HFW’s campaign – a big fat NO

Phil says:
25 January 2011

No take zones were put forward as an alternative to quotas as long ago as 1989. There are a number around the world and they’ve been very successful in rejuvenating fish stocks. I don’t imagine the system is much more expensive to police than the current one.

Whatever happens the EU can’t go on with the quota policy as it stands. Throwing dead fish back into the sea isn’t a valid conservation policy but the only reaction to it’s failure has to been to continually tighten quotas. It’s a bit like giving some drug to a sick person and then when they react badly to the drug doubling the dose.

BobP says:
25 January 2011

The whole point in this debate is what do the world , & EU do about dead fish being dumped on the Ocean Floor , at present by us & the World seeing this shameful & disgusting habit going on , What shall be done everyone says , well for sure the fish that should not be caught by any boat owing to its quota will not avoid that net , perhaps a notice on the mouth of the net would help but firstly teach the fish to read . The dumping of overfish is not helping the fish stocks , but boats will not or cannot stop fishing because it is wrong & we all know this , If fish are caught they are then dead fish so bring them back to port & the fish that are over the boats quota will not be paid for but are used to feed the Elderly / Schools / Hospitals , The starving , in this Country for Free , Sent to places around the World who are in dire need owing to Flooding , Earth quakes , Famine , it will cost to do this but The world is running out of food we are told every day so make use of food that is good for us with nourishment , protein , this is surly more sensible . The boats get nothing for over there quota fish but get paid for the under quota catch , is this not a more sensible start to dumping until we can think of something else to do with the overfishing problem , at least someone is benefiting .

Fat Sam, Glos says:
25 January 2011

I don’t think any fishing fleet is going to bring back dead fish to port to give away for free if they have exceeded their quota – obviously, it’s not in their interest to do so.

And that is why there should be inspectors on every boat – or no fishing.

I support anything that supports fish preservation – whether that is signing a petition or whatever.

I will not nit pick on it’s effectiveness – we need to save fish stocks – or they’ll go the same way as the passenger pigeon or the bison (AKA buffalo) and over 50% of other animals.

The world is supposed to be shared – not monopolised by profit seeking companies after the fast buck.

In case you are interested I have three foxes in my garden sharing it with my three dogs.

Martin says:
31 January 2011

I thought the recent program on TV was an absolute eye opener. There must be a better way of doing this than chucking all that good food back in the sea!!!! What a dreadful waste, it’s already dead, can’t we have a mixed quota system so that they can bring in all that they catch and not have to throw it away. It would also be a much Greener option as then the ships would not have to be at sea as long before they needed to land there fish.

Just picking up on one point Miranda made at the end of her article – that we need to start eating less fish. I think most of us bury our heads in the sand but know that this has to be part of the solution. If you need any more convincing, this interesting article from The Guardian explains why we need to eat less, not just different, fish: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jan/28/sustainable-fish

There’s an interesting article in Guardian today about how an alliance of industry players & conservationists want the EU to reform the fishing policy http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/feb/03/overhaul-europe-fishing-policy.