A fishy encounter

In: Uncategorized

12 Jun 2009

I had been hoping for a quiet evening after a hectic week’s work but unexpectedly found myself in a battle with some fishy environmentalists and an even fisher journalist.

Since I finished work unexpectedly early I decided to go to see the End of The Line, a newly released documentary about over-fishing, as the only cinema where it is showing in London happens to be close by. But I had not realised that I was attending a special showing followed by a Q&A; with the author of the book on which the film is based, Charles Clover, and an expert on fisheries from Imperial College London. It was more Daniel in an environmentalist shark pool, if you can have such a thing, than in the lions’ den.

Most of the questions were about how to regulate overfishing. For example, does Britain need more fishery protection vehicles in a certain stretch of water? I decided the best thing for me to do was to pose a polite but pointed question. I asked Clover how the human need to feed about 6.5 billion could be met. A woman in the audience immediately heckled me to say it would soon be 9 billion people – most likely because she was concerned about “overpopulation” – but I simply agreed with her that we needed to feed that many.

Clover’s response was measured but he insisted that there were limits to what could be achieved by fish farming (even though I had not mentioned aquaculture). Nor did he see ways round the problem. Large fish in fish farms are evidently fed with small fish from the oceans, inefficiently in his view, but he insisted there is also a limit to the number of small fish we can eat. Nor did he see great potential in vegetarian fish, such as tilapia, which can be farmed but do not depend on other fish as food. Obviously his arguments against fish farming were well rehearsed but he did not come up with a solution to the problem I had posed.

At the end of the film a journalist from the London Paper, a daily free sheet, stood up and said he wanted comments from the audience on the “fantastic film” we had just seen. When I confronted him afterwards to point out he had violated the basics of objective journalism – in effect telling people what he wanted to hear – he did offer to interview me. But I countered that I would not trust him to write a balanced article as he had already decided what to say. He said his article should appear in the paper on Monday.

I was then accosted by a smug environmentalist who accused me of being a “cynic” as if it was a swear word. When I pointed out there was another side to the story he said his viewpoint was rational and right. Obviously it is wrong to extrapolate from one person’s views but it seems to me typical of many environmentalists to want to deny alternative voices the right to be heard.

Anyone who wants to read a critical review of the film should look up the piece by Rob Lyons on spiked.

I am now going to make myself a fish supper.

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