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.


RMcGeddon said...

I watched that 'Dispatches' programme last night SR. Yuch. Those makeshift latrines positioned above the prawn and scampi ponds so that there would be a constant supply of food has put me off Bangaladeshi seafood for life.
Our Fisheries Minister ( Mr Benyon? ) wasn't very well briefed on fish. Hugh whatshisname asked him to identify the 7 fish species he had on display last week. The Minister couldn't identify any of them. Couldn't even identify a cod or a herring or a plaice which I assumed everyone knew. Obviously not.

JuliaM said...

I'd always bought scampi but made sure it said 'wholetail' to avoid getting the reformed stuff. Now I find out that isn't guaranteed either!

Joe Public said...

"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. "

Not being a piscatologist, I'd have thought that if they were seeking (very slightly) cooler water, they just swim slightly deeper, not hundreds of miles northward.

subrosa said...

Wasn't it upsetting RM? I bought frozen prawns from my fishmonger before Christmas and they came from Asia. I've used a few but the rest went in the bin last night. I'll let my fishmonger know they should be better labelled (although there was a label tucked inside the folded top but only readable really when you cut it to gain access.

Aye. The UK fisheries minister was a disgrace not knowing what certain fish looked like. So damned protected inside the Westminster bubble of course.

subrosa said...

It isn't Julia, and I've some calling itself that in the freezer. In future I will only buy single whole tail. Perhaps more expensive, especially if they're Scottish but I doubt I'll ever find Scottish wholetails. They're all exported.

subrosa said...

Joe, I bow to your knowledge. I think Iceland and the Faroes are stalling the process. After all, every day they're gaining £thousands aren't they.

cynicalHighlander said...

JB your obviously someone who isn't a fisher so different fish live at different depths to suit there food source, bottom, middle and top feeders. Going deeper is not an option for some species as there swim bladders cant cope with the increase in pressure so cooler waters is the only option open to them. Also oxygen content as lower depths lowers gas levels.

We still get the fish man van up here fresh from port.

Joe Public said...

@ cH

As I said....."Not being a piscatologist..."

However, WikiPedia offers: "They overwinter in deeper waters but move closer to shore in spring when water temperatures range between 11° and 14°C." implying they tolerate a range of pressures.

Anonymous said...

The four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein – can trade with EU members as freely as EU members can trade with each other. But they retain their independence, pay only a token contribution to the EU budget (as against the UK's £13.9 billion per year) and can avoid insane schemes like the Common Agricultural Policy. They also don't have to watch their natural resources turned into a "common European resource" – the desire to protect their fish stocks from this fate is one of the main reasons Norway has stayed out of the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy. And they can trade as freely with the rest of the world as they like. Not surprisingly this has led to their being more prosperous than EU members, even if one only compares them to the 15 Western European countries that belonged to the EU before the 2004 enlargement. What's more, these four countries export twice as much per capita to the EU from outside it as UK does from within the EU. So much for membership being essential for our trade interests.

Anonymous said...

The EU has allowed the taking of over a million metric tonnes of sandeels from the North Sea, every year for over 25 years. At a conservative estimate that's 20 million tonnes of these tiny fish removed from the food chain. They are supposed to feed wild salmon, cod, haddock, puffins, kittiwakes and other birds and fish. The Danes processed them to make food pellets for farmed-salmon in Scotland, pig food (which is why your bacon tastes of fish) and central heating oil (believe it!)

You will notice that the RSPB, SNH and a host of wildlife NGOs make little reference to the sandeel fishery these days - in fact its a deafening silence. See there's no money or deal-making to be done if you focus on sandeels - because you would be fighting UK Govt, EU Govt and big, big business. Far better to blame it on 'Climate Change' and carry on cosying up to the EU. Don't make waves and keep getting the grants.

In less than 30 years the EU has allowed the destruction and repeated crashing of: the sprat fishery in the Forth, the cod fishery, the herring fishery, the mackerel fishery on the West coast etc. and they call this 'the common fisheries policy'.

Climate change is happening; climate change has always been happening; it is the very nature of climate to change. The simple truth is you can't turn 20 million tonnes of sandeels into pig food and heating oil without wrecking all the ecosystems which depend on them. The silence of the conservation lobby is a complete and utter disgrace.

cynicalHighlander said...

Atlantic mackerel

It might be that food is more available further north in less polluted environments being part of the reason.

Young mackerel feed on microscopic copepods. As they grow, they feed on progressively larger prey. Adults will eat any fish smaller than themselves, feeding heavily upon small herring, sand lance and young mackerel. They also consume a variety of invertebrates such as copepods, crab larvae, squid and shrimp.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Any system that involves dumping dead fish back in the sea is a nonsense from any aspect.

This is a prime example of bureaucrats trying to design a racehorse and coming up with a camel.

subrosa said...

We've lost the fish vans CH because more and more folk started to buy from the new supermarket but fortunately we still have a fishmonger. I know we're lucky.

subrosa said...

I would think there is a majority of people who would prefer the UK to be EFTA members M. There's one typing this.

But I doubt if we'll ever get the chance to decide.

subrosa said...

M, mentioning sandeels brings back memories when I used to catch them as a wee girl. My grandfather was a great fisherman and taught me with a spinner rod and explained the role of sandeels in the great scheme of nature.

subrosa said...

But they don't seem concerned about this RA and of course Scotland has no direct say. That's the real problem for our fishing industry. It's controlled by those with no interest (the fisheries minister can't differentiate a dover sole from a cod).

Dark Lochnagar said...

Rosie, as someone who spent 20 years in the fish trade as a merchant, I don't profess to be an expert but I know more than that hairy chef twat, although he has highlighted discards.

The problem with Fishermen is that they are their own worst enemy. The insist on fishing heavily for fish when they come inshore to spawn in the early spring and then land boxes of 'roe', which are basically next year's stocks. Stop them fish at this time of year. Use bigger, square mesh nets instead of diamond shaped ones that squeeze up and don't let small fish escape. Stop decommissioning boats. My friend still works in the Fish Industry in Ireland and of 12 boats decommissioned there last year, the skippers have bought 10 new ons with the money. That's costing us a fortune.

There that's it solved! And I didn't need a documentary.

subrosa said...

DL, the 'hairy one' has had a haircut - didn't you notice? ;)

You should write to Richard Lochhead. I've heard what you say, or part of it, from retired fishermen who fished the North Sea back in the 50s, 60s and 70s in the old trawlers. Today's modern 'boats' are factories they say and therefore catch far more in a day than they did in a week.

Foxy Brown said...

I doubt I'll ever find Scottish wholetails. They're all exported.

It's complete and utter madness, Scottish waters are teeming with langoustine, but we source it from abroad. I shall watch that documentary with interest.

subrosa said...

Foxy it's even hard to buy them in the west because the fishermen will tell you they're exported to the home counties or Europe.

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