Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight campaign, which is urging people to march on Parliament and demand the implementation of 127 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in UK coastal waters is, in Seafish's view, in danger of undermining and undervaluing years of environmental improvements, unless it stops its vilification of the UK fishing industry.
Paul Williams, CEO of Seafish, said: "The Fish Fight Charter is simplistic, indiscriminate and lacking in scientific evidence in many areas. The inconvenient truth to campaigns such as Fish Fight is that fishermen's knowledge has shown how the boundaries of a number of proposed MPAs, and the location of features within them, are wrong. So you need fishermen on board in order to achieve the environmental, social and economic improvements that everyone is striving for, and the science must be in place before you designate MPAs. Going down the 'evidence-lite' route, as this Fish Fight campaign does, is likely to achieve very little and the campaign will simply alienate the fishing industry - a sector that is vital to leading environmental improvements in our seas.
"Hugh's Fish Fight has lost sight of the fact that 31 proposed MPAs have been approved, out of the original 127 proposed, for a reason. That reason was that the Government's Scientific Advisory Panel found that the review of the scientific basis for the additional areas - what was being protected, why it was important, what would be the benefit - simply wasn't adequate. To put pressure on the industry and Government for more at this stage is therefore irresponsible and opportunistic as it is our understanding that more MPAs will eventually be considered anyway once proper scientific evidence for them has been gathered."
Seafish's response tackles many of the assumptions made in the Fish Fight Charter and also questions why the celebrity chef is raising these issues now when industry and environmental groups have been working with Government for years to improve the vibrancy and productivity of the marine environment.
Some of the key points raised hinge on the assumption that all mobile gear destroys the sea-floor. The fact is that the right mobile gear used in the right place and at the appropriate intensity does not destroy the seafloor.
There is also the false assumption that all MPAs enhance fishing communities. Fundamentally, mobile gear fleets are important to many economically fragile coastal fishing communities.
Another false assumption that the campaign operates on is that MPAs bring unalloyed environmental benefit. On the contrary, displacing fishing activity from MPAs could negate the ecological benefits afforded by an MPA network.
There are some areas where Seafish does agree with the Charter such as the importance of establishing MPAs in order to protect the environment and enable sustainability. This is already being done in many areas and has created vibrant and productive seas around the UK. The difference of opinion is how this is achieved and also in how the campaign has chosen to illustrate the need for action.