“Of Fish and Foe” is a 2018 documentary that takes a look at contemporary eco-activism. Fundamentally, the film explores the nature of conflict, which in this case is presented as drama on the high seas. But as co-directed and produced by Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier, it makes for gripping viewing.
The Pullar clan has been using the traditional but increasingly controversial practice of netting wild Atlantic salmon off the Angus Coast as they return to their spawning grounds. The family claims that they have been fishing like this legally in these waters for centuries, and they feel that their livelihoods, not to mention their very way of life is under threat. Conflict erupts when they are challenged by environmental activists and animal rights protesters over the often brutal methods used - bashing sparkling fish fresh from the ocean, shooting predatory seals, and potentially entangling rare seabirds in nets.
Initially, it’s hard to have much sympathy for the fishermen...
Allegations fly, including of xenophobic and homophobic abuse, which the local police must constantly referee. As the sides face off, each videoing the other, the Pullars accuse the authorities of siding with the activists to demonise and ban their way of life and to protect lucrative recreational river angling.
The opposition on the otherhand makes full and emotive use of social media to promote its case. Initially, it’s hard to have much sympathy for the fishermen with their satellite tide forecasts, their calculating use of legalese, and their seemingly cynical references to Scottish ‘heritage’. But the protesters don’t emerge well either because they provoke the fishermen into fierce confrontations, drag them into court, and then offer ‘no comment’ when asked directly about specific Facebook posts.
The stand-off unfurls around Montrose where the landscape is consistently spectacular. Shards of coastline, eerie slanting summer sunlight, and quixotic seas make for a sublime Scottish setting. But the film forces us to wonder if the fight is really about the environment, or about the animals, or really just about humanity’s capacity to exploit nature and to pursue a hate-fueled agenda.
“Of Fish and Foe” always avoids taking sides though. Instead, it constantly challenges any pre-conceptions that we might have about catching wild fish in the Scottish seas, as well as about the tactics of modern environmentalism. But the argument at the film’s heart is the same as is going on all over the UK where battle lines are drawn between agricultural and commercial interests, environmentalists and protection laws, police, and parts of the establishment.
You can view the trailer here:
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