TV can be wonderful. It can save turtles, dolphins and sharks. It can make Tesco roll over. It can even make people eat fish that look rather squiffy. OK, that’s putting it flippantly, but that was the serious bottom line of Hugh’s Fish Fight: The Battle Continues last night, as the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his sidekick the TV camera combined to become the modern-day, middle-class superheroes whose force would kerpow the hell out of madly unsustainable fishing policies.
As with a traditional superhero, it helped that Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall had such a straightforward moral message; one that he kicked off six months ago in his first Fish Fight. “Things are not just bad, they’re mad,” he said with comic-book simplicity as he reminded us of practices such as “discards”, whereby fish caught that exceed quotas, are too young or too unpopular are simply chucked, dead, back in the sea. To the obscenely wasteful tune of more than a million tonnes per year.
It also helped enormously that, unlike a traditional superhero, Hugh created a gimmick-free zone, a dressed-down approach to revolutionary change with weapons no more controversial than an iPhone app, showing viewers how to cook gurnard instead of cod. Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall neither resorted to dressing up as a mackerel nor weeping salty tears as he pushed for progress (the brief presence of Jamie Oliver reminded us that, in other hands, both would have been viable campaigning methods).
Instead he had started a Mexican wave through the good, old-fashioned means of getting people to write to their MP; one that, backed with camera-power, had led to the funding of a government study and an emergency debate on discards. How gracefully, understatedly Hugh knew how to use the telly. The last large tuna supplier on his hit list converted to friendlier fishing methods not after any guerrilla action but after a one-line e-mail sent to the head honcho. Hugh’s simple PS: “I am being filmed sending this to you so an early reply would be good.”
Of course, the camera wasn’t exclusively a force for good. How daft did the MP Zac Goldsmith look — he who had catalysed the emergency debate — when he almost missed it. Instead of moving to the chamber he was still busy in the lobby, flirting with HF-W’s lens. And note Hugh’s careful phrasing as he took the fight to the EU: “Every MEP in Brussels wants to be seen to be supporting the Fish Fight”. “Seen to” indeed: a comedy rota of MEPs scrabbled to be in-shot with HF-W, some choreographing photo opportunities so explicitly that they even told the chef how to position his hands. As we left Hugh and his remarkable leaps forward, he noted that he would have to keep an eye on this seat of power, to make sure the EU reforms he had pushed for “actually happen”. Implicit in these parting words seemed to be: of all the species we had met on Fish Fight, the slipperiest perhaps is the politician.