The Uncertain Future Of Britain’s Fish & Chips:

What do the American actor David Duchovny (the FBI agent Fox Mulder in the X-Files science-fiction series), ex-Queen Sofia of Spain, British boxer Tyson Fury and British singer/song-writer Robbie Williams have in common? They are all pescetarians. This means they abstain from eating any type of meat, with the exception of fish and other seafood such as shrimp, clams and lobster.  As the vegan cuisine author, Jolinda Hackett, pointed out on “spruceeats.com” on 22nd January, pescetarians believe that a moderate consumption of fish or fish oils, which are high in Omega fatty acids, is necessary for optimum health.

The Vegetarian Society (VS) disagrees. It insists that there are many other alternatives available, such as flaxseed and hemp food and furthermore that oily fish contains pollutants such as dioxins, PCBs (the now banned industrial compounds polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury. The VS also argues that fish feel pain and suffer, that around 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die every year as a result of being trapped in fishing nets and that industrial fishing is reducing the biodiversity of the oceans and hence inexorably destroying the planet.

According to a survey of UK dietary trends conducted by “finder.com” and cited by its contributor Georgia-Rose Johnson on 22nd January, 23% of British residents say they intend to switch to a vegetarian, vegan (only food made from plants, such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits, so no dairy products or eggs), or pescetarian regime.

Millennials (those born between the 1980’s and the early 2000’s) are apparently the most meat-free generation: 15% of them state that they currently go without it. Finder calculates that if everyone questioned keeps to their decision, there will be 2,515,361 vegetarians and 1,703,109 pescetarians in the UK by the end of 2020.

Pescetarians, however, face a potential problem that could concern them rather more than their differences with vegans and vegetarians. Brussels has warned Britain – as reported by James Crisp in his capacity as the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in the Belgium capital – that unless the UK allows European Union countries to continue

fishing in British territorial waters after Brexit, its population might find that their traditional fish and chips will no longer be available. That’s because – as indicated in data released by Sabine Weyand, the German trade expert and the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator – the UK’s fish and chip shops, estimated at 10,500 by the National Federation of Fish Fryers (NFFF), are dependent on imports of cod and haddock from the EU to stay in business. FishFryerFinance has emphasised that NFFF members are already under pressure from higher rents and business rates as well as “a significant increase in competition from fast food outlets”.

Weyand’s statistics show that Britain catches only 5% of the cod it eats, about 21,000 tonnes and imports the rest, equivalent to 110,000 tonnes. More than 50% of UK-consumed haddock, amounting to 47,000 tonnes in 2019, is imported. Added to this is the threat of a “battle at sea” between French and British fishermen. Eric Gosselin, a Boulogne fishing boss, has declared that if his fleet of 50 ships is barred from UK waters, where they catch 60% of their fish, they will block British trucks from transporting fish into France. The UK sends 81% of its mackerel and 93% of its herring abroad.

The Prospect magazine columnist, Simon Taylor, observed on January 20th that although, after years of decline, the UK’s fisheries industry contributes only 0.12% to the country’s GDP compared to 4% from the automotive sector and 1.1% from heritage tourism, its fishermen “enjoy strong support from a public that admires them for carrying out a dangerous job in extreme conditions”.

Tony Connelly, a correspondent with RTE (The Republic of Ireland’s national TV & Radio broadcaster), describes the issue as “totemic, emotive and drenched in the symbolism of the UK taking back control”. He highlights the fact that although the UK, as an independent coastal state, will (on paper) be entitled to fish as much of the stocks in its own waters as it can, Brussels is insisting that if Britain wants a free trade deal, this will be linked to whatever access EU vessels obtain to both UK waters and the fish that inhabit them.

The British Sea Fishing Association considers it “hugely unfair” that European fishermen take 173 times more herring, 45 times more whiting, 16 times more mackerel and 14 times more haddock and cod out of UK waters than British fishermen do. It is also apprehensive that that the Royal Navy doesn’t have sufficient capacity to protect or control British territorial limits.

Gerard van Balsfoort, the head of the European Fisheries Alliance, which represents over 18,000 European fishermen, has told the BBC that his members will ignore any restrictions imposed on entering UK waters and will carry on fishing there regardless of the outcome of the 2020 UK / EU transition negotiations.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on January 27th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon

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