National paper under fire for hostile attitude to fishing –

National paper under fire for hostile attitude to fishing Published:  19 September, 2012

THE NATIONAL Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has accused the Sunday Times of running a hostile campaign against the fishing industry  which, it says, “ systematically presents a distorted, inaccurate, and one-sided view of fishing.”

The paper has recently launched a “Save Our Seas” campaign which regularly highlights overfishing and illegal fishing practices, as it sees them. Last week it ran a story which claimed that there were just 100 adult cod left in the North sea.

The NFFO, which has been critical of some media reports in the past,  said: “. It is not ignorance that lies behind these distortions. The paper’s Environment Editor (Jonathan Leak)  was provided with the whole cod story, including the stock’s positive developments over the last six years by the Federation and senior Cefas scientists in advance of publication. The paper chose to go ahead with a deliberately misleading catastrophe story.”

The NFFO’s chief executive Barrie Deas has now sent its response to Jonathan Leak, which says: “When Chris Darby from Cefas and I spoke to you for hours on Friday afternoon, it was in the perhaps naive hope that this week’s edition of the Sunday Times would turn away from its relentlessly one-sided and negative campaign on fishing. We were of course disappointed. The whole of the front page article failed to mention the most salient points about the North Sea cod stock: that it is rebuilding steadily; that here has been a dramatic reduction in the fishing rate for cod; and even with lower than average recruitment, the spawning stock biomass has increased annually for six years.

“It is a journalist’s prerogative to report and present the facts as he or she sees them. But there comes a point when the selection of only bad news and presentation of only one side of the story amounts to dishonesty. In our opinion the Sunday Times past that point some time ago.

Chris and I spoke to you about the high levels of cooperation between the fishing industry and fisheries scientists through fisheries science partnerships and the ICES benchmark process; we spoke to you about the many different initiatives underway to rebuild the cod stocks, including real time closures and the catch quota trials; we told you about the failure of blunt measures such as restricting time at sea and quota reductions and the subsequent moves towards  more intelligent ways of fishing; we told you of the stupidity of scaring consumers from eating cod in the UK when some 80% of cod comes from the buoyant stocks at Iceland and North Norway – and always has done; we also told you about the media’s negative role in pushing the European Commission and Council into two ill-considered and consequently inadequate cod recovery plans.

“None of this appeared in your article, which was misleading from its headline onwards.  Cod are “adult” when they are sexually mature at around 3 years. But your headline would of course have had less force if it had said – Only 100 Cod Pensioners Left in the North Sea.

The letter adds: “We suppose that, somewhere in the distorted thinking behind the Sunday Times Campaign, beyond the commercial motive that catastrophe stories sell news (and if there is no catastrophe one has to be concocted), lies a notion that it is doing good for the marine environment. But a fellow journalist recently made the very good point that Martin Luther King told the world the he had a dream. He did not say that he had a nightmare.By ignoring the positive aspects of the North Sea cod story in terms of stock trends and fishing industry initiatives you are failing both as a journalist and as an environmentalist.”