Whatever anybody's feelings, thoughts and impressions now that the three programmes comprising Hugh's Fish Fight has finished, you can't argue that a "famous" person getting behind the whole subject has at least brought it right into our sitting rooms with a loud crash. And that I feel is why we should be giving Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a huge, collective pat on the back for going out on a limb and fronting television programmes that are somewhat harder hitting and more shocking than your usual run of the mill tripe that is on the box. I can't stand the word "celebrity", indeed I would guess that many "celebrities" physically flinch when that dreadful term is applied to them (but plenty love it I am sure), but you can not argue that "Hugh the celebrity" has, via his "celebrity chef status", got people watching the programmes, talking about the issues he raised, and signing up to his online petition. I am guessing that Hugh is a regular person like all of us here, so I can't help but admire somebody like this who uses what his work has brought him (a level of "fame") to actually do some good - and not to simply appear in any one a number of dire celebrity magazines and waffle on about wanting to marry a footballer or trying to look like wearing sunglasses inside is a perfectly normal thing to do. Sorry, but the whole celebrity culture thing makes me want to be sick..........nothing like a Monday morning !! Why is anybody better or more important than anybody else just because they are "famous" ?
Anyway, back to the subject in hand. Although Hugh brought the problems associated with tuna fishing and salmon farming into sharp focus, to me the biggest impact of his three show series was of course the highlighting of good but dead fish being discarded back into the sea. Check out the comments on my last blog post about this subject and you will get a sense of the feeling amongst anglers in the UK (thanks to all of you who comment on this blog by the way). One thing that is always going to get anglers going is of course the huge and somewhat thorny issue of commercial fishing, but like I said the other day, that is where I think Hugh and his programme makers were so clever - get a bunch of commercial and recreational anglers around a table and it's hardly going to make good television. And remember, these Fish Fight programmes have to be television that gets people watching. Channel 4 is not a charity, and they are not going to invest in something that they don't think will get ratings. Fishermen of any kind banging on about their respective gripes for an hour or so is going to bomb in TV terms. But show a very good presenter like Hugh out and about doing his stuff and already Channel 4 must be in with a shout. Loathe though I am to say it, the discard of all those fish that we saw is far more "exciting" and dramatic in TV terms than a load of us (commercial and recreational anglers) shouting at each other about how we all know what's best for the sea.
And herein like the crux to me as a sport fisherman. We as anglers are very good at shouting from our respective soapboxes when we get to see something fishing-related that we don't like. But we ain't so good at actually doing something about it. Please give me some credit and understand that I do see a load of different angles apart from just the discard of perfectly good fish, but it's far too easy as an angler to sit back and rant and rave about what I or you might perceive as the injustices and short-sightedness prevalent within commercial fishing practises. Anybody can rant and rave about it, but my own respect goes to those people who go beyond this and actually do something about it. So I personally believe that Hugh should get a huge amount of respect for making those programmes. He is actually doing something about a law/practise that he sees as fundamentally wrong - like the discarding of perfectly good fish. I can't imagine that anybody could ever argue for good fish being dumped back dead, and each and every one of us should at least register out disgust and sign up to the online petition here. The absolute least that we can then do as anglers is to join groups like BASS or The Angling Trust, and at least give them a chance to make a difference. Shouting from one's soapbox and then doing nothing to follow it up is a complete cop-out if you ask me.
It is far too easy to blame the commercial fishermen for what is going on. They are the front line, they are the people we see who are harvesting the seas. As I said the other day, I did not think the programmes were commenting on the rights and wrongs of the guys on the front line. Very clever if you ask me. Instead Hugh was looking at the people, businesses and politicians behind the system that forces the commercial guys to discard fish, or buy tuna that has a shark, dolphin and turtle by-catch, or farmed salmon that takes 3kgs of wild, oily fish to produce 1kg of fresh, pink salmon on the supermarket shelf ? Is anybody the innocent party in all this mess ? Of course not, but again, we as anglers are quick to blame the commercial fishermen. The problem lies way, way above them, and unless the right rules and regulations are put in place then I worry greatly for the future of our oceans. Are we any better or worse if we go to the beach in summer and fill a dustbin liner with mackerel ? Are we any better or worse if we rip nine barbed hooks from the mouth of a bass and put it back in the water with who knows what injuries ? If it's any help, I have never for one second subscribed to the arguments that I hear from too many anglers - "what harm am I doing when the commercial fishermen are taking far more than me?", or even "what's the point of returning my fish when all they go and do is swim into a net ?". Please............
One thing that I would call into question from these programmes is the whole issue of "sustainability". I applaud Hugh for trying to put other fish than cod, salmon and tuna into the spotlight as viable alternatives for eating, but I do sit there and wonder what on earth is actually meant by "sustainability" ? It might be unrealistic I know, but let's for one moment imagine that Hugh's campaign to put hot, "sustainable" mackerel baps into our fish and chip shops suddenly means an complete end to customers asking for cod with their chips. Nobody suddenly wants cod, so there is no point fishing for them because there's no market. But suddenly everybody wants mackerel, and so the market for them grows and grows. More and more need to be caught. And how long do the mackerel then remain a "sustainable" fish ? A change in demand surely has to result in an increased demand for yet another fish, and therefore yet another fish has to be commercially harvested more and more. Catching tuna by rod and line might well do less harm than slinging 3000 metre nets around whole shoals of tuna (and the associated by-catch), but more and more people seem to want to eat tuna, so more and more need to be caught - by whatever method. But what I am not doing here is blaming Hugh in the slightest. That is not my point at all. What worries me more than anything is this - for all the discards, by-catches and fish farming issues raised in the programmes, I can't help but feel that the biggest single problem is that there are an ever growing number of people on this planet who want to eat more and more fish, and the sea is just not in any way an inexhaustible larder from which we can continue to take from at will. Does the future of our oceans scare the living daylights out of you, because it sure as hell does me.............(and by the way, I have not seen Gordon Ramsay's shark programme yet, it's waiting for me on my Sky box).