Sunday, 16 January 2011
A Fishy Business
Last night I watched the Channel 4 Dispatches programme 'Fish Unwrapped'. I doubt if I'll ever buy pre-packed scampi again and if I do purchase prawns, they won't come from non-EU countries. For some time I've found labelling on fish products confusing but years ago I was advised, by the retired boss of the long-gone Macfisheries, to buy only M & S or Birds Eye frozen fish. He wouldn't eat any other.
Fish is one of my favourite foods and we're very fortunate to have a local fishmonger with a main base in Arbroath, rather than be forced to used a supermarket to buy 'fresh' fish. Channel 4 have taken the subject of fish seriously with the first of a series, using the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, broadcast last week. It can be viewed here for another week for those of you interested.
The Dispatches programme looked at our imported fish while Hugh's concentrated on discards within the UK fishing industry.
Returning dead fish to the sea is an atrocity under any circumstances. In 2009 the TPA costed the EU's Common Fisheries Policy and it was never refuted by the industry or scientists who insist the policy creates sustainable fishing.
Last year Scotland has tried hard to find some compromise from the EU regarding the fishing of mackerel and the quotas issued. Iceland, which landed very little mackerel prior to 2006, has annually increased its quote from 36,000 tonnes in 2007 to a 146,818 tonne quota for 2011. The Faroes, a set of islands about 250 miles north of Scotland, tripled its usual entitlement to 85,000 tonnes.
Mackerel is the most valuable stock to the Scottish fishing industry which says the raised quotas were at odds with efforts to promote sustainable practices across the EU. Iceland and the Faroes argue that the mackerel stock has gravitated north in recent years because of climate change. Aye, such a handy excuse is climate change. Rather similar to the Data Protection Act isn't it.
The fishermen of Peterhead, the UK's largest fishing port, prevented a Faroese fishing boat offloading its cargo of mackerel early one morning. The Juniper's skipper had to leave port and return home claiming the blockade cost him more than £400,000.
Alex Salmond has called for political action to end the ongoing dispute while Tory MEP Struan Stevenson called for an EU-wide blockade of Icelandic and Faroese boats. The EU are thought to be introducing a ban on Icelandic boats but are yet to consider Faroese boats as they are not part of the European Economic Area trade agreement. Scotland doesn't have a seat on the Fisheries Council but Richard Lochhead has asked the UK government to request that the issue be added to the agenda. Last year Scottish boats were forced to discard almost 28,000 tonnes of fish valued at £33 million.
So, there are three main issues concerning fish. One is the amount of imports and our inability to source them and supervise their progress through the UK food system. Another is the amount of fish discarded because of bureaucracy and the third is regulation which further reduces the tonnes of fish caught within the UK.
We should withdraw from the CFP only then can we make sensible legislation which involves stopping throwing quality dead fish back into the sea and use it in our food chain. Surely such a common sense approach would reduce the amount of imports required. We must be more aware of the source of our fish. Supermarkets are experts in labelling and ensuring we are unlikely to read small print. The responsibility of what we put in our mouths is ours.
Fish has to be fairly distributed among fishing countries. We can't afford to have another Cod Wars. The Greens haven't been very conspicuous in their efforts to protest about the millions of tonnes of wholesome food being destroyed. Is it because they're too fixated upon AGW? It's time they concentrated on the present a little too.