'It isn't a simple equation to say stop using seafood'
SEAFISH chief executive Dr Paul Williams has launched a staunch defence of the fishing industry from a stage in Grimsby, asking for a fair deal from the influential national media.
Highlighting the "inferences" drawn from a near-constant assault of negativity generated from reports produced by academic and environmental groups on a sector vital to Grimsby, the head of the industry authority said it was high time the impact of other protein sources was checked before hard-hitting headlines were written.
Dr Williams, who is based at the town's Humber Seafood Institute, said: "There is a question we have to start to get to grips with here, even if we accept some of what is spoken about in the media about the seafood industry. If we accept there really is an environmental impact and some species are over-fished, does this take us to the solution that we should stop eating seafood? It really isn't that simple. We have a world population of seven billion now, the best projection for 40 years hence is nine billion, potentially 11 billion by 2050.
"The facts are that a huge proportion of that population is already malnourished. That is not a projection in the future, that's where we are now. A significant chunk of this population get a lot of their protein source out of seafood. It isn't a simple equation to say stop using seafood as food.
"Statistics actually show that one of the least environmental impacts of getting protein is fishing."
Underlining how emerging nations are getting an increased appetite for fish as class structures emulate the developed world, he said: "We cannot ignore the problems. Everyone recognises that better management of fisheries could lead to increases in stocks and increases of availability for food production and better fish/food security. There are issues we need to deal with, but some of the issues put at the industry's doorstep are much, much bigger than our industry, and some of these issues are not dealt with by headlines that say '100 adult cod left in the sea'."
His passionate plea at the Humber Seafood Summit came on the back of what delegates had dismissed as an exaggerated national article in the lead up to Grimsby's proud event, with some reports even missing the word 'adult' out.
Little emphasis is placed on the huge role aquaculture now plays when such 'horror stories' are written for mass consumption.
The defence came nearly 24 hours after marine biologist Prof Callum Roberts opened the event with a keynote speech about how environmental impact meant the industry would be forced to change dramatically within a generation.
The respected author has contributed to several controversial reports but, as previously reported, wants to see both oceans and the industry thrive.
Dr Williams said: "Huge global issues are not just about the seafood industry, and the seafood industry cannot be expected to tackle them. Seafish has been asked to take on managing consumers' perceptions of the seafood industry and management of the media's handling of seafood.
"The headlines, the inference of what they project, is that there are shortages of fish, that there are environmental impacts with fishing and big issues with farming in the seafood industry. The overall inference is 'stop fishing'.
"Compare that to agricultural protein production and the perception is very, very clearly about food production. Reports are focused on the price of feeding people. The concerns expressed are limitation of food supply and what the cost is going to be to the consumer. The overall message is feeding people. Seafood is sustainability and agriculture is about feeding people. We rarely get the two conversations brought together, about how do you feed everyone and minimise environmental impact? We have got to have the recognition that fish is food. The reason people go out in fishing boats isn't for entertainment.
Any food solution has an environmental impact. We have to talk about what level is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
"When we hear green organisations saying 'we want to close fisheries', they need to say what is going to replace that."