Waves breaking on rocks, Mizen Head, Cork, Ireland

Fish and Ships: What’s On Your Plate?

Back in early 2017, I wrote a blog, 2016 in review: What I Got Up To and What Happens Next, about what I’d been working on, and who I had been working with. It was a way of thanking everyone I had collaborated with during the year, to take stock and to get me thinking about  the future.

I also wanted to explore how people really use social media tools like LinkedIn. Despite time spent – or wasted – making connections on digital social networks, we often have no idea what our friends, and colleagues – and even family are working on. I wanted to see who was engaged, and what ideas could be fired up.

Friends and former colleagues responded; we caught up, shared stories, talked about families, and where we were living. In the maelstrom of daily life, time passes quickly – we can easily miss how our friends change careers, countries, even continents. I found that we can all end up working in silos – assuming that everyone else is too busy to talk.

A few days after I sent the message out, a message popped up from Steve Campbell, a former colleague at both the Antarctic Ocean Alliance and Greenpeace. Steve asked me if I knew someone who could help with EU Comms. I responded – yes, I did, me. Steve, a funding partner at Funding Fish, put me in touch with another ex-Greenpeacer, policy whirlwind Rebecca Hubbard.

In the following months, Bec and I developed and launched Our Fish, a rapidly expanding campaign aimed at pushing EU countries to achieve sustainable fish stocks in European waters. Put simply: stop overfishing, and stop tossing perfectly edible fish back into the sea. It’s not just a good idea, it’s actually EU law, as we keep reminding policymakers.

Our Fish has been getting up to shenanigans in Brussels, Luxembourg and Malta,  being a thorn in the side of those responsible for depleting Europe’s fish stocks in return for a quick buck. As I write, Our Fish has just had its second visit to Luxembourg for the annual AGRIFISH meeting on Baltic fish stocks, where we condemned decisions made by EU fisheries ministers for setting Baltic fishing limits at unsustainable levels.

Maltese street artist Twitch create a spectacular light painting, depicting a swordfish leaping from of the waters surrounding Valletta while being consumed by humans. Twitch, in collaboration with Our Fish and Dancing Fox and has created the artwork to send a message to 20017 Our Ocean conference delegates that they must help protect Mediterranean sea life. Photo: Dave Walsh Photography

Our Fish and Maltese street artist Twitch create a spectacular light painting, depicting a swordfish leaping from of the waters surrounding Valletta while being consumed by humans. Twitch, in collaboration with Our Fish and Dancing Fox and has created the artwork to send a message to 20017 Our Ocean conference delegates that they must help protect Mediterranean sea life.
Photo: Dave Walsh Photography

The Our Fish team has expanded to include Dutch, German and Danish campaigners; we’ve got a petition calling on EU fisheries ministers to #EndOverfishing (with help from More Onion). We’re producing a series of cool animations in partnership with filmmaker and animator Daniel Bird, and a new website built by Barcelona-based web cooperative Jamgo.

Our Fish Fishmonger offers chocolate herring and satirical newspaper The Daily Catch to delegates attending AGRIFISH meeting in Luxembourg, 15 October 2018, where EU fisheries ministers will decide on Baltic fishing quotas for 2018. Our Fish is calling on EU governments to fulfill their commitment to end overfishing and the discarding of fish in EU waters. The fishmonger stand was accompanied by pictures of German and Danish actors from the Fishlove campaign.

Our Fish campaigners offers chocolate herring and satirical newspaper The Daily Catch to delegates attending AGRIFISH meeting in Luxembourg, 15 October 2018, where EU fisheries ministers will decide on Baltic fishing quotas for 2018. Our Fish is calling on EU governments to fulfill their commitment to end overfishing and the discarding of fish in EU waters. The fishmonger stand was accompanied by pictures of German and Danish actors from the Fishlove campaign. Photo: Dave Walsh

Our Fish has collaborated with many NGOs across Europe, as well as creative troublemakers Brian, Tommy and co at Dancing Fox, and Camille at Green Exchange (who is based near me here in Barcelona), and Fishlove, along with many other artists and doers and fixers and experts. You can follow Our Fish on Twitter: @our_fish

Another person who noticed my blog post was Maike Nicolai at GEOMAR, the German marine science institute in Kiel. I met Maike in Svalbard back in 2010, when GEOMAR collaborated with Greenpeace on an ambitious ocean acidification research project; Greenpeace had provided its ship, the Esperanza to ferry tonnes equipment from Kiel to the Arctic and back; I was on board to provide communications support.

Seven years, and a massive body of research later, the BIOACID project was near completion, so Maike, and Ulf Riebesel – who had led the initiative from the outset – drafted me in help edit the final project brochure (which was presented at COP23) and to get the story into the media (check out this BBC story and this Guardian story: in short, CO2 in the ocean is not a good thing, as it tends to play havoc with food webs. Action required? Quit burning fossil fuels. Maike has since departed GEOMAR and is clearly busy shaking things up, with the recent, devastating 1.5C report from the IPCC – the call to action the world needs.

When not doing fishy stuff, I’m working on shipping – as communications advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, which brings together organisations stretching from Alaska to Brussels to Moscow. We’re campaigning for a ban on the world’s dirtiest marine fuel, heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping, because of its black carbon emissions, and the risk of oil spills – basically impossible to clean up in Arctic conditions.

The campaign has chalked up considerable success. Although HFO is already banned from Antarctica and Svalbard, a year ago, the idea of an Arctic HFO ban could barely be spoken about in the shipping world, never mind within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – the UN body that governs shipping. Yet this April, the IMO’s Maritime Environment Protection Committee (MEPC72) in London, a number of countries pushed forward with a ban, with backing from many other member states. They sealed this agreement in October 2018, by sending the ban for development to a technical meeting early next year.

Along with my colleague, Dr Sian Prior, I wrote this article about the campaign win – what it means, how it was achieved, how the ban will come about. More recently, Sian and I co-authored an article for the journal Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development. The article, A Vision for a Heavy Fuel Oil-Free Arctic goes deeper into why heavy fuel oil must be banned in the Arctic.

I also wrote What Does a Communications Advisor Do All Day?, also examines how communications played a role shifting the narrative on the heavy fuel oil issue – and how it can contribute to change on other matters too:

“To do this, I have had to pull the HFO issue out of the rarefied environment of the IMO into public discourse, so that it could be discussed in shipping, environmental and Arctic media not just as a nice to have (that we might phase it out) but as a must have – then continuing the discussion so that the inevitability of a ban becomes rooted in people’s minds. Decision-makers and their advisors – hopefully – come to see the ban, not as some weird fringe topic being wielded by a bunch of polar-bear-loving-hippies, but as a win-win solution; as something achievable, politically desirable and quite simply, a good thing.”

During the recent MEPC73 meeting in London, the Clean Arctic Alliance hosted a photography exhibition: The Arctic on Our Watch, to remind delegates of what’s at stake in the Arctic. The exhibition featured  several of my images:


I’ve been keeping up with other polar work –  I continue to serve on the board of The Arctic Institute, a Washington DC-based think tank, and have been getting involved in, CER-Arctic, a new Arctic Research Centre at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Finally, my partner, Nathalie Parès, launched her website, The Ingredient, as part of her organic food consultancy – and has dragged me out of the oceans, and into the world of food and farming. Check out her interview on Spanish newswire EFEAGRO, about the performance of Spanish organic sector and details of her forthcoming appearance on Catalonia’s TV3.

So what happens next? Our Fish has a busy couple of months coming up, with a major fisheries meeting coming up in December. I’m also busy developing communications plans for clients, and laying out some new projects for 2019. What’s on your plate? Let me know, and perhaps we can find a way to collaborate!

Related Posts