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The End of the Line: how we caught all the fish

June 9, 2009

Love fish and seafood? Well enjoy it while you can as it’s running out – and fast.

Charles Clover: The End of the Line

Charles Clover: The End of the Line

Across the UK an important new film, The End of the Line is being previewed based on environmental journalist, Charles Clover’s book of the same name – ask your cinema when they are screening it. I researched the fishing industry and fish farming for the Rough Guide to Food and what I found out changed the way I buy fish and seafood.



Out of sight – out of mind

Forget the tiny wooden fishing boats of our nostalgic imaginations. The majority of the fish we eat are caught out at sea thousands of miles away – far from prying eyes. With a lack of effective regulation and financial rewards aplenty, factory fishing ships are scooping up their prey – and any unlucky turtles, unwanted fish species, dolphins, coral – in vast quantities.

The sight of a bottom trawler dredging up everything in its wake and its heavy rollers crushing the life out of seabed creatures is depressing as is the fact that the largest trawler nets can hold 18 enormous 747 planes.

The film shows how our industrial fishing techniques are so effective that we’re literally emptying the sea of all life – and it won’t come back. Overfishing of cod off the Canadian coast has led to a complete collapse of fish stocks there: 40,000 fishermen lost their livelihoods and we lost an important breeding ground. We are overfishing to the extent that once the larger predator fish (and their young) we are fishing down the food chain to their prey (lobsters, shrimps) and once they’ve gone to mud, worms and jellyfish. Unless you like the idea of grilled jellyfish and a squeeze of lemon, we need to take action now.

This is not the stuff of fantasy: the loss of Canadian cod stocks was so shocking and unexpected that it led to new international scientific research and so, now we have facts and figures to back up the anecdotal tales from fishermen the world over, that there are fewer and fewer fish in the sea. Scientists estimate that most of the fish we enjoy now will have collapsed by 2048.

What can you do?

Despite a bleak picture is of how we have destroyed yet another natural resource, the film does offer hope and encourages us to fight back to show the industry and politicians that we, the consumer, do care where our fish comes from.


1. Ask before you buy: only eat sustainable seafood
Look for the MSC label or MCS  label on the fish you buy (if it’s not labeled you can’t be 100% sure it’s sustainable). Check the list of fish that are ok to eat and fish to avoid. Buy sustainably caught prawns (read my book if you want to know why).



2. Show the food industry you won’t support their blasé approach to fish: buy sustainable fish.

Boycott John West tuna – they came out as the worst offender in a recent Greenpeace survey; buy Fish4Ever tuna, Sainsbury’s own label tuna, Waitrose’s sustainable tuna and fresh fish.


3. UK Marine Bill: Lobby your MP
Scientists support the development of Marine Reserves to protect areas of the sea from fishing to allow sealife and fish to recover. The aim is to protect 30% of the ocean (at present less than 1% is protected). There’s only one reserve in the UK (Lundy) and we need more. The UK Marine Bill is being considered by MP’s this summer.

Tell politicians you care about the future of fish and back the campaign for marine protected areas and responsible fishing.

Contact your local MP and tell them you care about this.

Contact the UK Fisheries Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, to tell him you support Marine Reserves. He recently said: ‘We want ambitious reform that integrates fisheries management with that of the wider marine environment.’ (April 09) so support him against the fishing industry lobby.

Email the UK Fisheries Minister


4. Watch the film and tell your friends about it


5. Follow the film on twitter for the latest news

2 Comments leave one →
  1. fooddigest permalink*
    June 10, 2009 10:16 pm

    Have had a look and it seems that this part of the Adriatic has been subject to various initiatives to ensure responsible fishing. In this case – given that you’re on holiday – I’d stick to local fish and avoid bluefin tuna.

  2. Gemma permalink
    June 10, 2009 8:14 pm

    What is the situation with fish in Italy? Don’t want to feel too guilty when I am eating out on holiday (veneto area). Hopefully, it will be locally sourced. Assume that is a good thing?

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