BBC’s new Trawlermen series fails to address sustainability, says coalition

Shot in fishing vessels on the high seas, amid crashing waves that threaten to sweep all on deck overboard, the long-running BBC documentary programme Trawlermen offers viewers an insight into how a crew navigates one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

However, the new series, Trawlermen: Hunting the Catch, launched in October, fails to mention “even briefly” the environmental and climate crisis challenges or problems with bycatch faced by the fishing industry, according to the Our Seas coalition of 135 conservation and fishing organisations.

Our Seas has written to the BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, to express concern that the series “misses the opportunity to explore urgent sustainability issues” in the fishing industry.

The coalition, which includes the Blue Marine Foundation, Sea Shepherd UK and Fauna and Flora International, said sequences showed decks “writhing with marine life” hauled onboard with trawl nets, including undersized crabs, dogfish and even a blue shark, listed as “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list. A huge amount of this bycatch is dumped back at sea, having died, yet the series presents it as an “acceptable byproduct of fishing”, the letter said.

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It noted that the BBC, along with 11 other broadcasters, signed up to the climate content pledge at the Cop26 summit last year, acknowledging its “crucial responsibility” to act on the climate crisis and vowing to generate content that “inspires … audiences to make greener choices”. In a statement, Davie said the move represented a commitment to go “further and faster to engage and inform audiences on the climate challenges we all face”.

Citing a “growing body of evidence” that the sea floor is a vast store of carbon that can be disrupted or damaged by bottom trawling, the coalition said the trawling industry faced a “massive challenge” because of its carbon footprint.

“And yet the BBC’s Trawlermen: Hunting the Catch series fails to explore this theme, suggesting that it has been deliberately ignored and that the makers of Trawlermen, filmed just a few months after Cop26, have not implemented the actions within the climate content pledge,” it said.

Our Seas said it recognised that the BBC’s guidelines for impartiality required its output “as a whole” to include the breadth of opinion to ensure that “no significant strand of thought is … omitted”. However, it questioned whether the BBC was “adequately reflecting our fishing industry as a whole”.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Trawlermen: Hunting the Catch is a new observational documentary which follows deep sea fishermen from around the country as they risk their lives in one of the most dangerous jobs in Britain. The BBC is committed to covering issues around the environment and sustainability across its output, with recent examples including series such as Frozen Planet II and Our Changing Planet and the Go Green initiative on Radio 2 and the One Show, as well as our extensive coverage from Cop27.”