Dear cod

A foodie writes in praise of the best of British fish, now seriously threatened by zealous trawlermen
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The Independent Online
It's all right. I'm alone. If you're there, if you're listening, you can come out. No nets, no hooks, no olive oil, herb crust and frying pan. Just me with an update. The bad news is: if the experts are to be believed, you are perilously close to extinction. The same goes for your cousins, hake and haddock. The good news is: you have one man, by the name of Michael Holden, fighting like hell to save you.

OK, he may not be harassing trawlers in speedboats, Greenpeace-style. Rather, on Monday night, he was doing it in a dinner jacket. He was awarded the Grand Prix from the British Academy of Gastronomes, and he made an impassioned speech on your behalf. He called for the urgent decommissioning of half of European fishing fleets. He was seconded by the president of the academy, Egon Ronay.

Oh, don't leave! Yes, I know the joke "who needs enemies when your friends are foodies?" But this Holden man isn't a foodie, he's a serious player: he has worked for nearly 40 years for the Ministry of Agriculture and the European Commission. He was one of the architects of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and if he is saying it has not worked, then he should know. Writing for the World Wide Fund for Nature as early as 1991, he was calling for decommissioning of 40 per cent of fishing fleets. He knows that you do not have another 10 years for another CFP to be negotiated. He knows why we have weird fish like tiger prawns, yellow fin tuna and mahi mahi in Billingsgate fish market: because there is so little cod in the North Sea.

Mr Holden knows that a big cod used to weigh 90kg and that a big cod now weighs 2kg. He knows that increasing mesh sizes of nets does not make much of a difference, not when nets are massive and when even fishermen call them "walls of death". He knows about the "tickler chains" towed over seabeds to lift you off the bottom into nets. These are the devices that destroy the seabed and kill more fish than they catch. Ground-feeding fish, like you. He knows that your staple diet, sand eels, are known contemptuously by man as "industrial fish": ie, they are scraped out of the sea floor by the tonne, pulped into fish meal and pressed into oil. Until this year, Danish power plants ran on eel oil.

He knows, too, that foodies, such as Mr Ronay, are important voices in helping to stop the wanton destruction of our seas. Who else to put the word out? The Portuguese must decide that eating their national cod dish, bacalao, is old hat. The French must deem brandade passe, and in Britain, well, we must lay off our fish fingers. As for those trendy metropolitan eaters who describe themselves as vegetarians but who eat fish, these utter nitwits must learn that you, my dear cod, are not a vegetable.

I wish I had better news. All I can really offer you is my own guarantee. I myself had cod in a restaurant just the other night. It was delicious, but I won't be eating it, or promoting the eating of it, for a very long time. Not until your stocks are recovered and the future is secure. I promise. I want to help the Mr Holdens of this world to save you. Are you there? Did you hear any of this?

EMILY GREEN

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