Hook, line and sinker


I shall be interested to watch former Daily Telegraph reporter Charles Clover’s End of the Line, a TV documentary about alleged over-fishing. He claims the blue fin tuna is about to become extinct and, of course, I hope he is wrong.

But I’m not convinced anyone really knows how many fish there are in the sea. Back in the 1930s Grimsby, Hull, Lowestoft and Yarmouth landed more herring than they knew what to do with. One day there was no more herring. And the world threw up its hands in horror, we had made them so small in number they may as well have become extinct. But they came back and now – no-one wants to eat them anymore preferring McHaddock burgers instead.

When I worked for the Daily Star we carried out an investigation into trawling on both sides of the English Channel. The French had subsidized, fast-moving boats which looked like stink-pots and netted everything in the sea. By comparison our fleet chasing the same finny tribe – hake in the western approaches – were wooden, outdated, inshore boats manned by young men in state housing trying to repay massive marine mortgages and risking their lives in so doing.

What sticks in my mind were the number of fish inspectors the UK then had patrolling the quaysides of British fishing ports and seizing fishing boats with £70,000 fines for landing the wrong kind of fish. Our struggling fishermen were genuinely scared of these chisel-faced officials. Then – this was back in the mid-1990s- the UK had 150 fish inspectors. France had 15. Spain had three.

Shocked at such disparity we then went to Boulogne’s (then the largest fishing port in France) fish market with a retired fish inspector from the UK. He picked out no less than 17 fish piles laden with undersized creatures from lemon sole to dabs.

Sickening, I know, but no-one’s done anything about it and both fish are still available at my wet fish shop.