Sunday, 22 September 2013

Fish & chips at the seaside

The Fisherman's Pier fish and chip van in Tobermory, Mull. It's a pretty scene on a working port but only the scallops were caught locally. The rest of the fish has to be shipped in, as since the introduction of the quota system white fish vessels have all but died out in the Western Isles.

One of the places we're most likely to eat fish in Britain is at the seaside. This habit is partly due to tradition: fish and chips just feels right at the coast, surrounded by fishing boats, seagulls and salty air. It's also partly down to quality: the closeness of the boats acting as a visual guarantee that the fish you're eating is as fresh as it's possible to be.

But more and more often, the idea of locally caught fish and chips is turning out to be a myth. This is because a huge amount of the fish we eat - both on the coast and off it - isn't caught by British boats at all, but imported from overseas and shipped (or flown) in from places like Iceland and Norway. This is particularly the case with cod, the perennial favourite to be served battered with peas and chips.

As one local in an English seaside town put it to me: "it’s smoke and mirrors. It’s all to do with the atmosphere. You're looking across the road with your fish and chips, and a guy walks past in a smock, little boat chugs up, and you think, ooh, that could have come from him. Only if he drove the wagon from Norway it could."

So why isn't fish and chips the local food that holidaymakers and day-trippers assume it to be? It's partly due to method of preparation. Frozen cod works well for fish shops, and the majority of boats in the UK land their fish fresh. This brings us to the real issue: fresh fish wouldn't be a problem if it had a short distance to travel - as should be the case in a dockside chippy. But the UK fishing industry has been so decimated in recent years by low quota and politically-imposed 'free market' forces that often fish can't be sourced locally with any stability of supply, so it tends to be delivered by road from larger ports (such as Newlyn or Peterhead) and more often still from even further afield: Iceland, Norway, Russia or the Faroe Islands.

And it's not just fish and chip shops. Many excellent smokehouses dot the Scots and English coastline, and have been curing herring and mackerel using traditional methods for decades. But just because of their coastal location, and the boats lining the quay near the shop, do you assume the fish being cured is still caught locally? It's not always the case. In Whitby, my favourite smokehouse Fortunes often import their herring from Denmark. Even if they wanted to buy fish from Whitby fishers, it's doubtful they could: under our quota system, Whitby fishing boats (and their peers up and down the Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland coast) only have the 'right' to catch a minuscule amount of the herring that seasonally shoal close to their shores.

These wider political and economic forces, which are largely a result of the Common Fisheries Policy (and the UK quota management that's a part of it) mean that many people are working under an illusion when they buy fish and chips on their day trip to the coast. The geography of the sea, and sense of place one gets on holiday, often rests on some assumption of connection between the environment and the food you're eating. Who doesn't want a crab when they are in Cromer, a Cornish pilchard in Padstow or an oyster in Essex? Don't we usually assume that fish eaten by the sea is local, just because it seems that it should be that way? I believe we do, and I think many people would be disappointed to know the truth about the food-miles racked up by that special supper they assume is an integral part of their coastal experience.

If you would like to eat more local fish at the seaside, there are steps you can take. First (and obviously) always ask where the fish is from before you order your meal. Not only are you more likely to get an 'authentic' local experience, but it lets owners know there is a demand for local fish. Second, don't always plump for cod - haddock, for example, still might not be local, but it's less likely to have been flown in from abroad. Perhaps the scampi or prawns are local - or, as is the case in the photo above, the scallops. Obviously if you care about locality or air miles, The increasingly common Pangasius (which is often imported from Vietnam) is a no-no. Third, celebrate fish and chip shops that do serve local, and share your knowledge on review sites such as Tripadvisor - it's useful local information that I know I'd appreciate. As consumers, we all like to be aware of what we're eating, and it's good to have the information to help us choose wisely.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Fisheries Reading List

A while ago, my colleague Alexis and I led a reading group on marine fisheries for Oxford Masters students. It recently occurred to me that the reading list might be useful to other people interested in fisheries policy, so I've shared the first term here. Alexis works for NOAA in the US National Marine Fisheries Service, and my focus is very much European, so this is reflected in the content. The course ran in 2011, so papers of note that are newer than that are not included.

You should be able to get a lot of the resources open access, but if you would like any of the any academic resources that are behind a paywall, let me know and I'll see what I can do to help you out.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Performativity Presentation

I gave a presentation on a work-in-progress paper at the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change conference last week. In the paper I talk about what the regulation of the British fishing industry can tell us about the theory of economic performativity (a good resource on which is this book).

Here's the presentation I gave, with a little bit of text added to make up for the fact I'm not speaking over it as I would have been at the conference! 

If you're interested in any of the topics, or would like to give your opinion, do get in touch. You can email me using the address in the about me section of this blog.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

A Nigel Kneale selection

August has been a busy month, which is why this is my first post for what seems like ages. As well as the fishing and finance project mentioned previously, I'm also working on a paper about the use of human rights law in fishing rights conflicts and, excitingly, I've started working on a new project with Margherita Pieraccini, a law lecturer at the University of Bristol who specialises in nature conservation law. We're going to be looking at the new Marine Conservation Zones (which are a bit like nature reserves in the sea) that are springing up around the UK, and I'm sure I'll be sharing a lot about this on here in the future. I'll write more about all of these projects soon, but for now I wanted to share a short post on something I've been enjoying immensely whenever I need a rest from my hectic work schedule.

As you may be aware if you've read this blog before (or seen my Tumblr or Twitter, or you know, know me in real life), I'm a big fan of mid-century British film and television, and especially enjoy anything with a rural or pastoral element, so I can't resist a bit of folk horror. Unsurprisingly, I love Nigel Kneale, and in case you haven't enjoyed the work of his that's available online, or need a reminder to revisit it, I wanted to share my favourites here - it's amazing what you can get on Youtube these days.

A still from Beasts: Baby, 1976.

1. Probably my favourite Nigel Kneale TV play is The Stone Tape (1972), a BBC film so influential that it has even inspired its own hauntological hypothesis. It's about a group of scientists trying to make an ipod out of a dead Victorian maid, or something like that anyway.

2. Second in my personal hall-of-fame is a 1975 episode of ITV's Against the Crowd series: Murrain. Set somewhere in Yorkshire or North Derbyshire (massive tick from me), it's about a group of farmers who suspect a local woman of witchcraft.

3. Next, another one from 1976, this time from the ITV series Beasts. Simply called Baby, this is about a mother-to-be who finds something curious bricked into the wall of her new country cottage.

4. Now, the most famous film in this list. Kneale was a writer on what was arguably the first film of the British new wave: 1959's Look Back in Anger, a screen adaptation of John Osborne's 1956 play. Although I can never really understand why the ending of the play was changed for this film, it's still wonderful and deserves its historical significance.

5. Number five doesn't strictly belong in this list, as it's not one of my favourite Kneale productions to watch, but it has such an interesting story I couldn't resist including it. It's 1963's The Road.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the BBC had a habit of either not recording or destroying recordings of many of their programmes. For decades, it was thought that reality-TV (and Black Mirror) precursor The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968 - this is definitely in my top five to watch, just for the Hebridean self-sufficiency theme) was lost, until someone rather luckily found a black and white recording in the 1980s. A number of Kneale's BBC plays are still lost to us however, and only exist in the memories of those lucky enough to have seen them on their first broadcast. This includes the Wednesday Plays Wine of India (1970) and Bam! Pow! Zap! (1969), 1971's The Chopper (Out of the Unknown series) and 1955's The Creature

Perhaps the most notable loss of Kneale's work is The Road. This TV play was so powerful that it haunted many that had the good fortune to see it on its original broadcast in 1963. It's easy to see why: the plot is strikingly intelligent and innovative, even set amidst Kneale's other work, which is notable for its striking intelligence and innovation. Set in 1771, The Road tells the story of a small English village haunted by the ghosts of a future nuclear holocaust. Of course, you can't watch The Road online, as (sob) no one can. However, you can watch something: last year, a group of amateur actors and film makers were so desperate to see The Road that they got hold of the script and spent a few months making it, as faithfully as possible, themselves. 

You can watch their ghost-of-a-ghost-story above. In the 21st century, when you can generally get hold of any cultural artefact you want at the push of a button (this blog post being the perfect example of that) it's a testament to Kneale that his work is worthy of so much effort.