14 Jan 2011, 13:53
As the comments in response to my last post demonstrate, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaign to end the practice of discarding dead fish has amply achieved its initial goal of whipping up anger at the absurd way in which the EU's system of fish quotas forces fishermen to throw away millions of tonnes of dead fish every year. But the visceral anger this scandal has provoked rather begs the question: what next?
In fact, for all its undoubted effectiveness Hugh's Fish Fight has broken one of the first rules of campaigning: know precisely for what you are campaigning.
The goal of the Fish Fight campaign is to reform the Common Fisheries Policy to bring an end to discards, but it does not set out how this should be done, openly admitting that "Hugh's Fish Fight is not trying to dictate the exact solutions politicians should choose – simply to ensure that whatever their choice for 2012, the prevention of discarding should be a top priority".
As a result, the letter to "Commissioner Maria Damanaki, Members of the European Parliament and all member state governments" that people are being asked to sign states only that: "I understand that the current Common Fisheries Policy leads to discarding on a vast scale; for example, half of all fish caught in the North Sea are being discarded because of the current quota system imposed by the CFP. I want this senseless waste of food to end. I want you to use your influence to stop this unacceptable and shameful practice."
It is an admirable goal and a justifiable letter, but the problem with this approach is that people supporting the campaign are not precisely clear on what they are lending their name to.
For example, I would be delighted to see changes to fishing techniques and increased demand for a wider variety of fish, but I'm still equivocal about campaigning for the complete ditching of a quota system which is certainly wasteful but may also have helped some fish stocks recover from historic lows. I certainly would not want to campaign for the preferred option of some fishermen whereby quotas would be replaced by a time limit on fishing days – an approach that would lead to the dominance of giant trawlers and a probable increase in overall catches as fishermen rush to land as many fish as possible in the shortest time possible.
However, plans put forward by lobby group Client Earth for a new fishing credits system sound promising if complex, while WWF's proposal for mandatory long-term fish management plans looks interesting but is likely to be difficult to enforce. Greenpeace's proposal for an increase in marine protection zones will also appeal to environmentalists, but its effectiveness would depend on the size and location of the zones and the extent to which they are enforced.
Admittedly, Hugh's Fish Fight is well aware of these issues, stating on its website that "most people agree that the answer will lie in a combination of different ideas and policies". But what combination, what ideas and what policies?
The campaign has done the marine environment a huge service by highlighting this scandal, but if it wants to be celebrating an end to discards when the Common Fisheries Policy is reformed next year it will need to be clearer on precisely what changes it wants to see.
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Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray