Earlier this month Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall jostled public opinion enough for the European Commission to reconsider their policy of throwing half of the fish caught in the North Sea back, dead.
The decision by the European commission is a good thing. Discards are seen, at best, as a very bad solution to the problem of overfishing. But the problem of sorting out a sane fishing policy remains. Hugh’s efforts were, are and have been gallant. But despite valiant petitioning, his popular revolt proves little, other than the fact that although many in power are unable to make competent decisions, public campaigning seems limited in its ability to offer a real alternative.
It is true that many of the European Commission’s policies smack of a cowboyish, make-do-for-now approach. But this runs deep and cannot be solved by the popular rejection of nonsensical policies. Indeed the Commission’s willingness to bow to celebrity is another dimension of the problem.
This incident forms part of a trend which suggests that activism can only achieve its goals with the help of celebrity backing from the likes of Joanna Lumley, Jamie Oliver or, indeed, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied Hugh’s campaign has done what neither dialogue in the European community (Britain included) nor old-fashioned non-celebrity-led activism could do. Getting MEPs to sit around a table, let alone to discuss a difficult issue, is in itself an extraordinary achievement.
But collectively the anti-discards movement has been inarticulate. Angry chefs, disenfranchised fishermen and a lot of angry digital signatures were all that ministers were given to chew on. Why couldn’t we, the protesters, bring any new suggestions to the table? Is public outrage confined to a binary output: yay or nay?
There is at least one glaring example of what could have been put forward, but was not. Two words that at least offer a suggestion as to where to put all that leftover fish were it to be landed: food banks.
A food bank takes surplus food from local businesses and larger wholesalers—sometimes operating on an international scale—and redistributes it to people in immediate need. A food bank checks the quality and suitability of foodstuffs for consumption. Food banks offer a link…