THE seafood industry should remember that fish is food and is playing a vital part in feeding a hungry world.
That was the message from Dr Paul Williams, chief executive of Seafish, who gave the opening address at the Humber Seafood Conference in Grimsby.
Replying to some of the recent attacks on the industry from environmental organisations and some national newspapers, he said: "Fishermen do not go out in boats for entertainment."
He mentioned a recent call by the New Economics Foundation to ban fishing altogether for five years and a controversial newspaper headline which claimed there were only 100 adult cod left in the North Sea. These and other similar warnings were giving a false perception about the industry, he maintained.
"We have to accept that any form of food production has some form of environmental impact. We have to establish what is realistic and what is acceptable."
He said the 'green' organisations who criticised the industry did not say what food will be needed to replace fish or what environmental impact any alternative would have.
Referring to a possible ban on scallop dredging around the UK coast, he said that while everyone had to be mindful about protecting the environment, to rule out dredging altogether was bizarre.
Dr Williams said the agriculture industry, which was also about feeding people, did not suffer from the same negative perception. "The question we have to get to grips with is that even if we accept some of the claims about seafood, does this mean we have to stop eating altogether?
"We have a world population of seven billion people which is predicted to rise to around nine billion by 2050. A large percentage of the world population is undernourished. Many of these people get their protein from seafood.
"The fact is that fish and seafood production has the lowest environmental impact of any method of feeding people. We are going to have to expect higher (global) consumption because the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations, and China in particular, are changing their eating habits."
Dr Williams added: "To stop eating seafood is a non starter, although we should recognise there are some problems. We have to realise that better management of our fish stocks will eventually lead to higher production."
The summit was chaired by John Goodlad, the chairman of Shetland Catch, who said Scotland's pelagic fishing sector was responding to the challenges with more than three quarters of the fishery now MSC certified. "This shows how far the UK fishing industry has moved in the last few years," he added.
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