The Fish Fight Against Food Waste

Under the E.U. Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), almost a million dead or dying fish are discarded at sea each year, in what has been named as a chronic waste of food.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the celebrity chef and food campaigner, has started the campaign ‘Fish Fight’ to pressure the E.U. to make changes when they reform the CFP. In 2007 it was reported that between 40% and 60% of all fish caught by trawls are being discarded, and the figure is expected to be at least as bad now.

The policy, which causes an “insane waste of edible food”, has long been known about. Now with the weight of Fearnley-Whittingstall and several other big names behind the campaign, ‘Fish Fight’ looks set to make a big impact when the campaign officially launches in January with a broadcast of ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight’. Even now, a month before the launch, over 33,000 people have signed up to the campaign, which will be sent to Commissioner Maria Damanaki, members of the Common Fisheries Policy Reform Group, and all MEPs.

Whilst much attention has focussed on the waste of perfectly edible food, and understandably so, you can’t help wonder what impact this volume of discard has on the marine environment. Many sea bird lovers out there will know that this discard is a major component of the diet of gannets. The system at the moment seems to operate on a ‘one for us, one for the birds’ basis, with the gannets finishing off the discarded fish. Should this change, and for the sake of marine biodiversity it must, the gannets may go hungry. Dr Hamer and his team, well established researchers in the field, believe that gannets may have specialised feeding habits, with some individuals relying heavily on discards while others focus on finding sand eels or diving for mackerel and herring. If correct, the team believes a phasing approach to changes in the discard policy would be best.

“Although the long-term benefits of a ban will be positive, we need to accurately predict short-term impacts as well If gannets have specialised to the extent we believe, rather than cut off a crucial food source overnight, a gradual phasing in of the ban would allow them time to retrain to find food elsewhere.” -Dr Keith Hamer, Lead Researcher

The North Sea has changed dramatically over the last two decades, pressuring most sea bird populations. Gannets, however, have bred successfully targeting food thrown overboard by fishing boats. In a collaborative effort with colleagues at the universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Dr Hamer will be investigating the extent of specialisation in feeding habits using GPS trackers and depth recorders. The study, to be done over the next three years, will provide vital information to the EU and UK government on how a change to discard policy might be implemented and where to impose marine protected areas in the North Sea.

For more information about the Fish Fight campaign visit the Fish Fight website here. If you’re interested in other environmental campaigns please sign up for our monthly newsletter here.

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