Rarely has a TV campaign been won so convincingly. In January this year, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight programme persuaded over 600,000 of us to support a ban on the wasteful practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea. The European commission listened and has announced it intends to ban discarding fish.
For some peculiar reason, the fishing industry’s reaction to the commission’s announcement was not as warm as you might have expected. A discard ban will put many out of business, we now hear, presumably because many of the fish caught as bycatch are smaller and less valuable than the ones fishermen land today. So in announcing the plan, Maria Damanaki, the European fisheries commissioner, sought to soften the blow. Under her proposal, fishermen may be paid to fish for plastic instead.
Plastic fisheries sound daft, but the idea is far from silly. Our seas are awash with plastic bottles, bags, nappies, discarded fishing nets, ropes and thousands of other bits and pieces – the flotsam of modern life. By 2008, the latest year for which I have a figure, 260m tonnes of plastics were made using 8% of global oil production in raw materials and energy. The curve of production over time bends upwards like a cliff face, increasing by 9% per year. The stark reality of this ever-steepening upward climb is that more plastic was made in the first 10 years of this century than all of the plastic ever created up to the year 2000.