France and Spain today backed down over a plan to carry on throwing dead fish overboard after an internet campaign organised by a television chef.
Prior to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s social networking campaign, the two countries had been hoping to persuade fellow fisheries ministers to sign a declaration opposing a ban on discards, when trawlers exceeding their allowable catch throw back fish into the sea dead.
More than 130,000 Twitter and Facebook messages were sent to ministers urging them to oppose the draft declaration and France and Spain did not insist on a vote. Britain's fisheries minister Richard Benyon went into the meeting saying he would oppose France and Spain. The EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki now looks likely to phase out discards over four years, by reforming the Common Fisheries Policy in a way that ultimately kills fewer fish.
Last night Fearnley-Whittingstall told supporters: "I'm coming back on the Eurostar and it's been a satisfying day. Discard disaster has been averted as the French, Spanish, Portguese and Belgian revolution just didn't happen. Maria Damanaki led from the front and seems to be building consensus among the ministers. Everyone agreed that the amazing Twitter and Facebook activity over the weekend made a real difference."