Fishing for change

A celebrity chef in the United Kingdom is hoping to affect European Union law and encourage new dietary habits with a fishy, four-part TV special that begins airing this Tuesday.
January 10, 2011

A celebrity chef in the United Kingdom is hoping to affect European Union law and encourage new dietary habits with a fishy, four-part TV special that begins airing this Tuesday. Hugh’s Fish Fight is part of Channel 4′s Big Fish Fight season, a series of programs in which celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Arthur Potts Dawson will investigate the causes behind diminishing global fish stocks.

Hugh’s Fish Fight aims to galvanize public awareness around the practice of ‘discarding’ – or when fisheries operating in the North Sea and elsewhere throw back dead, but otherwise perfectly edible fish that exceed quotas outlined in European Union law. More than a million tonnes of fish are wasted annually according to a teaser video posted on the campaign website,

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is up for review this year and TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and producers at London-based KEO Films are hoping the campaign points in Hugh’s Fish Fight will not only lead to amendments in that legislation, but change dietary habits in the United Kingdom.

In the series, Fearnley-Whittingstall focuses on the most popular seafood menu items in the UK – cod, salmon and tuna – and sets out on his own trawler to watch fishermen at work, speak with activists and grill politicians and members of the public on the issue. He also investigates claims by supermarkets that their fish comes from sustainable sources.

‘In the UK we’re very obsessed with only three types of fish,’ says Will Anderson, director and series producer of Hugh’s Fish Fight. ‘Fifty percent of fish sold in UK supermarkets are either cod or tuna or salmon. That in itself causes problems. A lot of perfectly edible fish is being thrown away or overlooked because we’re not interested in trying new things or being adventurous in our fish eating.’

To make the series’ message more relatable for viewers its producers are launching a campaign to get fish ‘n’ chips shops to include a hot mackerel sandwich on menus to encourage demand for alternatives. ‘People seem very conditioned to walk into fish ‘n’ chips shops and ask for cod n’ chips,’ he adds. ‘We’re going to be doing a follow-up show to see how many shops we can get to take up the baton, as it were, and introduce this healthier and more sustainable fish on to their menus.’

Anderson has produced and directed lifestyle programs and documentaries for KEO Films for more than 12 years. Fearnley-Whittingstall co-founded the company and is best known as the host of the River Cottage programs, which follow urban families as they relocate to the country to grow their own food and raise their own animals.

That initial lifestyle angle has evolved into more overtly activist series such as Hugh’s Chicken Run, a national campaign launched as part of Channel 4′s ‘Food Fight’ series two years ago to examine the poultry industry and encourage the British public to choose free range chicken at the supermarket.

‘Whether in the long term we changed eating habits [with Chicken Run], I don’t know,’ says Anderson. ‘But one thing we definitely say we did was make people more aware of the issues. That applies even more to what we’ve done in fishing because obviously fishing happens out at sea and most people don’t ever see it or think about it.’

Anderson and his crew shot the series from October to December last year on trawlers in the North Sea off the northeast coast of Scotland, as well as in fishing towns in southeastern England and the Maldives and at the European Union Parliament in Brussels.

‘Obviously filming on trawlers is difficult because, not only are you very limited in terms of space, but you’re also being thrown around a lot with a camera on your shoulder,’ he says. ‘Running around in the North Sea three days from home was not easy, but we managed.’

The series’ campaign site,, already has upwards of 40,000 sign-ups, a number Anderson expects to jump to well over 100,000 when it officially launches on Tuesday to coincide with the first episode airing. KEO will continue to maintain the site until a follow-up program reporting on further developments airs later this year or in early 2012.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.