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Scales of justice in Of Fish and Foe

18 July, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Directed by Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier
Certificate 12a

THE Pullar family have been fishing off the coast of Scotland for decades, using traditional methods to catch salmon in nets as the fish head back to Scottish rivers to spawn.

With falling stocks, the Pullars’ methods are carefully policed by bailiffs – and are also watched over by people who care for the environment.

The Pullars have a licence to shoot a number of pilfering grey seals – and putting high-velocity bullets into the skulls of these gentle creatures does not sit well with many who live in the same community as the fishing family.

We follow both sides as the Pullars try to eke a living out of the seas, and members of the Sea Shepherd environmental group attempt to dissuade them from killing seals, and also ensure they stick to the law over when they can catch fish.

It appears straightforward at first – but Heathcote and Bachelier unwrap another layer of the story that essentially shows how there needs to be a balance in policy-making, of ensuring we try to reverse hundreds of years of overfishing and protect our environment, but at the same time understand the needs of coastal towns and villages who have relied on the seas for their livelihoods.

It would be easy enough to paint a group of men who use high-powered rifles to blow the brains out of seals in a wholly bad light. It sounds a stomach-turning thing to do, and the idea of not staying within the boundaries of the law as to when you have your coastal nets out to catch salmon is also another indefensible act.

But what this film does so well is show the nuances of what we are watching. It appears that the lobby behind the attempts to stop the family fishing with nets for salmon aren’t just animal welfare campaigners – there is a separate, less worthy group at work, made up of the rich landowners who own the fishing rights in Scottish rivers. More salmon caught at sea means fewer travelling into fresh water to spawn, and the less game for posh anglers who bring the Scottish economy a fortune in hotels, food, drink etc and are essentially the villains of this piece.

It shows that in this complicated modern world, compromise and taking the time to understand that sometimes there are many shades to an argument is so important in policy-making.

It might be hard at first to feel any sympathy for the Pullars, but then you slowly understand their point of view, even if you can’t condone their behaviour.

You also have to feel sorry for the environmental bailiffs, caught up with policing this, and trying to make sure the rights and wrongs are understood.

This is an interesting documentary that manages to do away with voiceover explanations, and offers a limited range of shots. This no-frills approach adds to the storytelling and is a thoughtful and well-crafted piece of film documentary.


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