Constructive response to recent bad publicity around one of the fishers in Plymouth’s Sole of Discretion
Relatively new as I am to the fishing industry, I now appreciate why the fisheries are in the huge mess they are: nothing is simple when dealing with a shared, wild resource, and ultimately dealing with nature. Nature doesn’t fit neatly into modern business models, and is why our oceans are so depleted of fish. My aim is to help navigate customers through this difficulty and help them make ethical choices. I believe we are still the only company seriously offering this option at the retail level, and having been in operation for just over two years, I now appreciate just how complex a challenge I’ve set myself.
I set out on this journey from a conservationists point of view, and recognise that it is a thin line to tread between allowing fishers to catch what they can and maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Our fisher [who was found guilty of an instance of falsifying quota records] actually caught only 30% of his allocated quota for Pollack in 2017. Therefore landing the Pollack in question on the wrong boat still didn’t mean he’d breached his annual catch. Moreover, the small-scale boats only caught a total of 80% of their annual pollack quota in 2017, leaving an unused 167 tons of uncaught fish in the sea. From a conservationists point of view, this is a point worth noting.
Sole of Discretion remains committed to selling fish that is 100% traceable back to the boat, displaying the method of catch on each and every label, arming our customers with information sufficient to maketheir own ethical choices. There is plenty of scientific evidence to support our stance that smaller boats have a far lower impact on marine life than the larger vessels do, and for the most part, these small fishers are struggling to maintain a livelihood. Sole offers them a life line and in turn, helps doless damage to the seas.
It has not been an easy journey, but we haven’t given up yet, and thanks to amazing companies like Farmdrop, some of these small-scale fishers, caught between a rock and a hard place, are being given the opportunity to help all of us eat fish that has been caught with a lower impact than most others, and that is a challenge worth fighting for. We are, along with many other smaller scale fishermen, supporting the development of a dedicated Producer Organisation (PO) for the coastal fishing communities. If we had one in place to match the many PO’s for the larger scale sector then our fisher could have simply covered his landing through the PO and would not have been penalised.
By chance, our longest standing customer, Farmdrop were on a planned visit as the news was unfolding. Farmdrop spoke with a number of fishers we had arranged for them to meet, and having seen how they work and listened to the difficulties they face as small-scale fishers, such was their conviction to being part of the solution. We are grateful and privileged to be working alongside such visionaries.
Ben Pugh, CEO of Farmdrop, comments: “Farmdrop strongly supports the UK’s small-scale fishing community. The smaller day boats used by Sole of Discretion are among the most environmentally friendly way to catch fish and by selling their fish online, we are helping to preserve our precious fish stocks and marine life. Clearly the UK fisheries quota needs to be reformed, with more quota going to smaller day boats. This will help to reduce the negative impact of fishing on marine-life and enable more people to make a living from sustainable fishing. We will continue to sell fish from Sole of Discretion and work with others to reform the absurd fish quota system.”
In her message to Food Plymouth, extracts from which form the basis of the article above, Caroline Bennett neatly summed up her position thus:
“We are advocates for positive change and the road to perfection will always have a few potholes along the way. It is important that we make the small-boat model work.”