Of Fish and Foe (2018) ****

July 19th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dirs: Andy Heathcote, Heike Bachelier | UK Doc 90′

Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier follow up their delightful documentary  The Moo Man with a more confrontational film that explores the traditional methods of wild Atlantic salmon fishing that falls foul of animal rights activists.

In Northern Scotland near Thurso, the Pullar family make their living from the sea. Stretching long nets across the bay where wild Atlantic salmon are crossing the tidal waters, brothers Kevin and John then sail out to collect the catch. Most of the salmon on the market comes from commercial salmon farms making their share of the consumer market all the more difficult, although their fish are far superior in quality. They are joined by a series of helpers and often a young boy who is clearly invested in his unpaid work.

This is a competitive market: and Anglers still take the lions share of the dwindling salmon trade but the Pullars’ business seems to have made a bad name for itself due to their habit of shooting seals which they believe are further depleting stocks.  This is a practice that has attracted protesters in the shape of Sea Shepherd, who naively think they are protecting the local fauna. There are big commercial interests involved and the Pullars’ give them no quarter – often taunting them with ill-advised insults, despite their annoying habit of disrupting daily business, posing a danger to  themselves and the fisherman. The protesters seem to have no real understanding of the cultural implications of their actions or the ways of the sea, and stick out like a sore thumb as they clamber about taking photos and make snide comments on the treacherous rocks. By the same token, the Pullars are not the most diplomatic or sympathetic of folk, often queering their own pitch for their lack of charm and tact.

Their rivals consider the Pullars to be getting in the way in an industry that has moved forward, yet they are simply fisherman going about their business, and respectful of the ways of nature and fishing husbandry, humanely killing seabirds stuck in their nets, or even salmon who have been fatally injured by pecking seals. By Law they are required to cease operations during certain times, weather permitting. But the protesters are like terriers, constantly yapping at the their feet. Between their rivals and the Sea Shepherds it seems the Pullars’ business is doomed to fail.

The directors keep their distance presenting the parties’ pros and cons without judgement, leaving the audience to make up their own minds about this thorny dilemma in a story that very much resonates with the narrative of surviving communities and disappearing lifestyles. Fishing was one of the mainstays of Britain’s rural existence until the EU came along. MT


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