The Fish Fight's success is to be lauded, but more must be done to tackle dwindling stocks
Hugh's Fish Fight returned to our screens last night with an update on the considerable success the campaign has enjoyed since it was launched at the start of the year.
We heard how TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has delivered one of the most successful environmental campaigns in years, garnering 700,000 signatures calling for an end to the practice of 'discarding' fish, encouraging shoppers to buy a more varied range of fish, and pressuring the European Commission to bring forward proposals that would ban discards.
Perhaps most significantly, it has forced all the UK's major providers of tinned tuna to phase out the use of aggregation devices that result in the capture of countless rare and protected species.
As with the original series, Hugh's Fish Fight, the Battle Continues was an excellent piece of passionate campaigning polemic. Moreover, it is hugely encouraging to see such a show deliver tangible results.
Getting many of the UK's leading supermarkets to switch to pole and line caught tuna is a huge achievement. Raising the profile of the grossly wasteful practice of 'discards' to a level where politicians are forced to rethink a dysfunctional policy is impressive. Hugh and his producers deserve all the plaudits coming their way.
However, there are two significant questions the show raises, one positive, one slightly less so.
The first is what can the wider green community learn from the undisputed successes the Fish Fight has enjoyed? In six short months four hours of television has managed to take an under-reported environmental issue and turn it into a national campaign that has delivered tangible results.
For a green NGO sector that has at times appeared a little rudderless in the wake of the success it enjoyed delivering the UK's Climate Change Act, there have to be lessons that can be drawn from the success of the Fish Fight.
On the face of it fisheries policy is not a particularly exciting or accessible topic. Like many environmental challenges it takes place far from population centres, engages only a relatively small percentage of the population, and offers no easy answers. Yet Fearnley-Whittingstall and Co have managed to clearly elucidate the madness of a failing policy and provoke a public reaction.
It raises the question of why NGOs and green businesses are so much less successful at mobilising similar campaigns focused on deforestation, climate change, resource depletion, renewable energy and so on. How do we glamourise and simplify an environmental issue at the same time as educating people and driving tangible results, in the way the Fish Fight has done?
The second question is effectively a reprise of the concerns I raised when the Fish Fight series was first broadcast at the start of the year. Namely, how, precisely, do we end discarding while still increasing protection for fish stocks?
The campaign is hugely admirable, but remains somewhat ambiguous in terms of goals that go beyond the commitment to end the highly wasteful practice of discarding.
During last night's show Fearnley-Whittingstall again stressed the "madness" of discarding while paying much less attention to the crisis that originally prompted the EU's flawed system of quotas: the institutionalised over-fishing and collapsing fish stocks in European waters.
It is very early days for the EC's proposed reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy, but it is immediately apparent that its plan to force fishermen to land everything they catch is fraught with challenges.
Without a huge diversification in terms of demand and a rapid rollout of more targeted fishing techniques there is a very real risk that fishermen will be incentivised to game the system and continue to discard low value fish so they can land more higher price varieties.
A ban on discards, like all bans, will work only with robust policing and inspections, the like of which many European fishermen are unlikely to welcome.
Equally, any replacement of the current system of quotas will require some new form of quotas or protections to ensure fish stocks are restored. EU politicians will have to show considerable strength if they are to defy the calls from some quarters of the fishing lobby for more fishing to help fishermen protect their livelihoods.
Fearnley-Whitingstall acknowledged in last night's show that ultimately a "cocktail of different ideas" will be needed to end discarding and protect fish stocks, but again it would be good to have a clearer sense of what should go into that cocktail.
The show also failed to tackle one of the key issues that will have to form part of any successful policy mix: over consumption.
In a timely intervention, the New Economics Foundation and The Guardian both posted stories detailing how Hugh's Fish Fight has led to an increase in demand for alternative fish species such as mackerel and pollack, but not prompted a commensurate fall in demand for the most popular species such as cod and haddock.
The show achieved a huge victory in getting supermarkets to phase out the most harmful tuna fishing techniques, but perversely it may have also acted as advertising for those self same supermarkets, contributing to a net increase in demand for fish.
Despite these concerns, Hugh's Fish Fight deserves the laurels heaped upon it for the huge progress it has delivered in pushing this most unglamorous of environmental issues up the political agenda. The progress achieved in just over six months has been astounding and has helped lay the foundations for genuinely effective reforms to a failing European fisheries policy.
As the New Economics Foundation put it: "Support Fish Fight and spread the word, but eat less fish too!"
The UK government has published its latest plan to cut air pollution, focusing on wood burning stoves, farming and car tyres - BusinessGreen rounds up all the reaction
But latest plan to tackle UK's illegal air pollution levels faces meets with heavy criticism from green campaigners and Labour
Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts EVs to dominate global auto market, as costs continue to tumble
IEMA's Martin Baxter finds that delivering a Green Brexit is about a lot more than simply finalising an effective Withdrawal Bill