The Big Fish Fight

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Next week will see the launch of Channel 4's Big Fish Fight season. A series of programmes dedicated to the plight of the world's fishing industries.

The programmes, which will feature Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blummenthal, Arthur Potts Dawson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, aim to persuade consumers to act with their feet and switch to eating sustainable, less 'fashionable' fish.

The programmes start next week with Hugh’s Fish Fight which will examine the issue of bycatch, something which conservationists have acknowledged is the one of the most pressing issues for fish conservation.

According to an EU paper between 40% and 60% of all fish caught in the North Sea and throughout the EU by trawls are being discarded. Some of these discards are undersized fish, and some of them are species for which there is currently little market. But much of it is "over-quota" fish: ie: prime cod, haddock, coley, whiting, plaice, and other major food species, for which the fishermen have run out of quota.

However, while trying to catch fish for which they do still have quota, they cannot avoid catching large numbers of the "wrong" species. It’s an inherent problem in what is known as a "mixed fishery" – to keep the fish would be illegal but only a few of these fish will survive. Hugh told the Sun newspaper:

“It's hard to fathom and hard to stomach. I'm standing on the deck of the Seagull, a 400-tonne trawler, 80 miles west of the Shetlands. And I'm watching the crew throw dead fish back into the sea.

"It's not just a few undersize or damaged fish. It's basket after basket of prime cod and coley.

"I do a quick calculation with Gary Much, the skipper, and we reckon it's well over 600 kilos of fish going back - and that's just from one five-hour trawl of the nets.

"Based on the dish I cooked for the crew the previous evening, I could have fed 2,000 people with these fish. But EU law says they can't be landed - they must be thrown back."

The discarded fish are due to an EU policy known as the Common Fisheries Policy which is currently up for review. Initially this policy was put in place to protect fish stocks with minimum landing sizes and quotas; unfortunately the system is the reason for so much fish being thrown back into the sea.

Hugh and the Fish Fight campaign are lobbying to get supporters to sign a letter which urges the European Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, to ensure the elimination of discards is top of the CFP reform agenda.

Following on from this programme Gordon Ramsay will appear in a programme which investigates the controversial shark fin soup. Heston will produce some more "ahem" unusual recipes such as sea cucumber sandwiches, jellyfish and chips, a chocolate starfish. Jamie Oliver will dish up a set of recipes designed to utilise some less familiar fish species and finally Arthur Potts Dawson who is passionate about the environment and sustainable living will spend a week living as a trawlerman.