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Fish Fight: Open letter to Dr. Ruth Brown

by HughFW published on
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Dear Ruth, 

Thanks for taking the time to write with your views on the latest Fish Fight programme. I am sorry that you feel disillusioned with the campaign, and that you feel we misrepresented your views on Marine Protected Areas or the krill fishery. 

Let me respond to your points in the same order you presented them. You say that we implied that the research you do is paid for by license money received from the krill industry. In fact in the film it is Dr Martin Collins of the South Georgia Government who introduces the idea that the fisheries generate £3 million a year, and we specifically state in the voiceover “the bottom line is that the fisheries operating round South Georgia bring in 3m pounds a year for the Government, and that money is what keeps the whole place running”.

This is an accurate summery of Martin’s explanation to us on camera – and it contains no specific reference as to how the research programmes on the island are funded. We never said or implied that the research on Bird Island, or anywhere else, was funded by krill fisheries or any other fisheries. 

You seem disappointed that we never once mentioned BAS, CCAMLR, or NERC. This is because television needs to work hard to make complicated ideas and stories comprehensible and accessible to a wide audience, and including acronyms and too many auxiliary parts to the story often works against this guiding principal. We do however explain clearly that there is an “international management body” which sets quotas for the krill boats (ie CCAMLR), we just never mention it by its name.

When we talked about penguin populations declining, and we did this more than once during the programme, we made it clear that what is known is that penguins are declining due to habitat loss. What we actually said is that “It is not yet known what effect fishing  for krill might have on this fragile ecosystem”, and again later in the programme “What is harder to measure is the effect that the growing krill fishing industry is having on the local wildlife”. It is precisely because of this uncertainty that we go on to talk about the need for “future proofing” our oceans, and setting up more restrictions on the fisheries working in those areas, management plans which we are delighted to see are currently being discussed and implemented. 

You say that fur seals have undergone a population explosion in recent years in South Georgia and that we fail to mention this fact in our programme. What we actually say (over shots of lots and lots of fur seals) is that the populations of whales and seals around these islands are “almost back to pre-hunting levels. In fact South Georgia has now become the most important breeding site in the world for fur seals”, which I think gets the point across.

You say that it is misleading to suggest that all the whales have recovered to pre-hunting levels, and I agree, we may have over-simplified this point, and I’m happy to post a clarification on our website along the lines of: “During our latest Fish Fight programme we gave the impression that all the whale species around South Georgia have recovered to their pre-hunting levels. In fact, although humpback whales have shown strong recovery, Blue Whales and fin whales haven’t yet recovered to pre-hunting levels, and there is a lack of data on Sei whales and Antarctic Minke whales.” Perhaps you, or others working at BAS could help to clarify these facts?

You are right that we didn’t include the fact that the Saga Sea has little or no bycatch while it is fishing for krill. We did film a sequence talking about this on board the boat, but due to a lack of time, we did not include it in our final edit. As I mentioned before, it is important to keep the story telling of a TV documentary clear and simple, and as you know, bycatch is not something we are looking at in this series, having covered it so comprehensively in the first series of Fish Fight 2 years ago. I do not feel that this omission misrepresents our story in any way. 

You conclude by saying that our programme was poorly researched and misleading, and suggest that we came to South Georgia with preconceived ideas of what we wanted to film. I can assure you, however, that we take great pride in getting our facts right, and putting across forceful and engaging arguments to our viewers to try to encourage them to take an interest in marine conservation issues. Although we thoroughly research our stories before we leave the office, we never arrive on location with preconceived ideas of what we will discover there.

One of the joys of documentary making is filming what you find, and following the stories that emerge on the ground. Unfortunately, when we arrived on South Georgia, it appeared to us that everyone we were due to film had been briefed about what they could and could not say to us. It was later confirmed that a briefing from the BAS press office and representatives of the South Georgia Government had indeed taken place before our arrival in South Georgia. This made it quite difficult for us to feel like we were ever getting heartfelt and true responses to our questions. 

I hope this answers some of your queries and concerns, and that we can continue to have an informed and productive conversations about marine protected areas and how best to manage the astonishing seas round the Southern Oceans.

All best wishes,

Hugh 

1 reply
Replied on

Hi Hugh,
The episode about Krill fishing in South Georgia made a huge impact on me...as no doubt it did on many people around the globe...
It was horrifying to see how even this "supposedly" protected and "pristine" area is being stripped of the very food that sustains so many sea creatures...and totally disgusting that most of the tonnes and tonnes of Krill are used for Pet Food!!....I mean...really!!...and I don't know HOW much research there has been done about the "benefits" of us humans taking krill oil...

How greedy do we have to be as humans??

I hope with all my heart that something will be done about this situation ....but that may well be a naïve thought !!
Our beautiful world is being stuffed up every which way!! When are people going to wake up?

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