Chef’s Fish Fight filleted by industry

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A CELEBRITY chef’s campaign to pressurise the Government into setting up a vast network of protected areas around the coast showed “zero concern” for fishermen’s livelihoods, an industry group claims.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall led hundreds of people in a march on Westminster on Monday to demand more marine conservation zones (MCZs).

The Government has only set out plans for 31 MCZs out of 127 – with none off the East Coast of Yorkshire. So far more than 112,000 people have followed his call to e-mail the Government demanding more zones.

But chief executive of the York-based National Federation for Fishermen, Barrie Deas, said the chef’s TV Fish Fight campaign had “lost sight of its original focus and linked itself to the agenda of non-governmental organisations with zero concern for fishermen”.

Mr Deas, who had a meeting with the chef, said the Government’s decision to proceed with the first tranche of 31 MCZ designations was “the only rational approach” based on scientific advice.

This, he said, contrasted “with the superficial and emotionally-charged approach advocated by a range of NGOs, supported by Hugh’s Fish Fight, which carries a high risk of delivering perverse outcomes and unintended consequences”.

An example of how it could go wrong was the abrupt closure of Lyme Bay to scallop fishing in 2008 with no consultation with fishermen – leading them to be displaced to the Yorkshire and Welsh coast, where they ran into conflict with shellfishermen using pots to fish for crabs and lobster.

Mr Deas said overall fishing had a lighter footprint than almost every other form of food production.

But the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust which has been campaigning for all 127 MCZs to be introduced said 31 sites would not achieve the “ecological coherence” of the desired network.

They would like the most damaging activities – bottom trawling and dredging – to stop in the MCZs, but were in favour of low-impact potting continuing.