Fishing industry hits out at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, once seen as the champion of Westcountry fisherman, has sparked anger and frustration in the region's ports with his latest televised "Fish Fight" campaign.
The Westcountry-based restaurant owner and campaigner's TV series is "simplistic, indiscriminate and lacking in scientific evidence", industry body Seafish claimed yesterday, in a furious broadside aimed at the show.
The latest round of the celebrity chef's mission for a more sustainable fishing industry, which includes demands for the introduction of 127 marine conservation zones around the coast, aired on Channel 4 this week.
But the programme has prompted a furious reaction from the industry which claimed the campaign was "misleading" and risked "alienating" fishermen who were vital to conservation efforts.
Seafish responded to the programme by publishing its own ten-point response to the so-called "Fish Fight Charter". Paul Williams, chief executive of Seafish, said the campaign had "vilified" the fishing industry and was "in danger of undermining and undervaluing years of environmental improvements".
"The Fish Fight Charter is simplistic, indiscriminate and lacking in scientific evidence in many areas," he said. "The inconvenient truth to campaigns such as Fish Fight is that fishermen's knowledge has shown how the boundaries of a number of proposed marine protected areas, and the location of features within them, are wrong.
"So you need fishermen on board in order to achieve the environmental, social and economic improvements that everyone is striving for, and the science must be in place before you designate marine protected areas.
"Going down the 'evidence-lite' route, as this Fish Fight campaign does, is likely to achieve very little and the campaign will simply alienate the fishing industry – a sector that is vital to leading environmental improvements in our seas."
The Fish Fight campaign, which also wants to see an end to discards (unwanted dead fish being dumped back into the sea) has gained the backing of hundreds of thousands of people via an internet petition.
Paul Trebilcock, chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, said Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, had "undoubtedly" done the industry some good by raising awareness of issues with the general public.
But he said yesterday: "There is a lot of anger and frustration. It is very inaccurate at times. He is using his celebrity chef status to mislead the public in terms of what the fishing industry is doing.
"The industry has done so much good in terms of sustainability and protecting the marine environment and that is either being ignored or they are not prepared to put a balanced view across because it doesn't make good television.
"However well intentioned these people are, the effects in the real world for the fishing industry could be catastrophic. They need to be careful of the unintended consequences."
In December, the Government angered environmentalists by announcing that just 31 of 127 proposed marines conservation zones would be given increased protection. The first wave in the South West includes Padstow Bay, the Tamar Estuary and Torbay.
A march on Parliament is being staged on Monday as part of the Fish Fight campaign, demanding the full list be implemented.
Channel 4 said Thursday's programme "does not criticise the UK's fishing industry" and had been "fair, accurate and meticulously researched".
A Fish Fight campaign spokesman added: "More marine protected areas would allow habitat to recover, which ultimately would benefit the fishing industry."
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose River Cottage food business is based at Axminster in East Devon, also responded to some of the criticisms in his blog on the Fish Fight website.
He added: "Behind the scenes we have spoken at length to fishermen from all different sectors of the industry, and we have tried to include their views accurately and fairly in the programmes.
"I understand that not all fishermen are the same, and not all fishing methods damage the marine environment. I think we have been very clear."