The Channel 4 programme Hugh’s Fish Fight that was shown on Thursday, February 14, included footage from around the Isle of Man, and looked at the impact of scallop dredging on the seabed and the role of marine protected areas in supporting both the scallop industry and the overall need to conserve marine ecosystems
Presenters Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Callum Roberts dived in Port Erin closed area and looked at the amazing diversity of marine life that has re-established since the area was protected in 1989.
Hugh described it as the ‘most interesting dive I have ever done in the UK’.
They compared this area to the heavily dredged areas off Perwick Bay.
The footage was used to establish that marine protected areas work to allow economic activity to continue in other areas of the sea bed, and to support a call for the establishment of 127 marine protection areas around the UK. The current Westminster government has signalled that it will only designate 31 of the proposed areas.
This is an emotive subject.
Scallop fishermen rely on dredging as a relatively low cost way of making a living and are fiercely protective of their industry.
Very few people ever get to see the seabed and see the destruction that occurs. The general public are understandably upset when they are shown footage and the Fish Fight programme recreated the impact on a beach to illustrate the damage further.
The Manx Fish Producers’ Organisation is right to criticise the programme for its focus on marine protected areas for not being the ‘be all and end all’ of solutions.
But with the limited time available it wasn’t possible to cover restrictions on boat length, number of dredges, time at sea, closed seasons, minimum catch sizes and all the other measures that the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture have put in place to secure the future of the scallop industry.
Perhaps the film would have been more balanced and given a better portrayal if the FPO had agreed to participate and engage with the production team while they were here rather than resorting to warnings and threats that they indulged in? The edited footage alluded to the nastiness that occurred, the unedited footage and recording of the radio traffic showed how nasty things got. We hope we never see such childish behaviour again.
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall came to praise the Isle of Man for the level of protection, around 3 per cent of the seabed is protected.
He did not come here to condemn an industry that provides jobs both at sea and on land to process the catch. The level of protection around the Isle of Man is higher than anywhere else in the UK and a real credit to the fishermen, DEFA and the scientists involved. However, a note of caution: the Manx FPO retains the right to fish in any of the closed areas should it chose to do so.
The only area that is fully protected is Port Erin. I hope that the fishermen will reflect that actually the programme showed them in a positive light and that they will continue to stay out of all the closed areas.
The closure of Bay ny Carrickey in the wake of the filming of the programme has been welcomed by conservationists within the island community.
We hope to chart the recovery of the seabed ecosystem over the next few decades.
While this topic remains very much in the public eye, the Manx FPO should ensure that its members abide by the MPAs and continue to win public support. Some members of the public are already deciding against dredge-caught scallops, in favour of the much less damaging diver-caught scallops and we welcome the announcement by DEFA Minister Phil Gawne MHK that he would look favourably on this option.
The Isle of Man waters produce a premium product and is well placed to capitalise on this market.
I believe we are entering an era in which the provenance of our food will become the hot topic.
Anyone involved in food industry should therefore be prepared to discuss and evaluate the impact of their production methods. At the turn of the 20th Century the Isle of Man had a herring fishery.
At the turn of the 21st century we have a scallop fishery. Will we still be fishing at the turn of the 22nd century? I don’t know.
We owe it to our grandchildren to ensure that our activities now do not cause any more long term decline, but wouldn’t it be so much better to say we actually improved on what we inherited from our grandparents?
Out of sight is no longer out of mind.
Bay View Road, Port St Mary.