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Hugh’s Fish Fight or: The blind spot of the EU social media gurus

The European Parliament has about 370,000 fans on Facebook. Hugh’ Fish Fight campaign has 238,000. The English language Twitter account of the European Parliament has 10,250 followers. Herman van Rompuy has 51,000. Hugh’s Fish fight has almost 30,000. The main campaign video of the campaign has been seen almost 300,000 times since the end of 2010:

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The campaign has made over 780,000 people signing up online. For one single issue: Fish discards. It runs in English, Danish, Spanish, French, German, Greek, Dutch, Polish, Swedish, Portuguese, Italian and in Flemish. Recently, Hungarian, Czech and Slovakian campaign elements have been added.

The European Commissioner for Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, was at the official launch of the campaign last year – that fits with her policy-priorities – and even gave a supportive interview:

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For this weeks EU Council meeting where the coming fisheries policy of the EU was discussed, the campaign claimed that there were 135,000 tweets (#fishfight) asking ministers to support the discard ban proposed by the Commission. Even the Council press service on Twitter used the hashtag.

To support these online efforts, Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall – TV chef, chief lobbyist and chief journalist of the campaign – was in Brussels and talked to ministers in person. True or not, he later claimed that due to his campaign especially the ministers from France and Spain backed down from a joint declaration that was meant to water down the discard ban.

The Guardian reports about it. CFPreformwatch also has more from the meeting. And fisheries news service SeaFood Intelligence compares it with the Arab Spring and Wikileaks…

Yet after a year, this has still not been used by all the social media experts in EU affairs as a good or bad example for an EU social media – or EU multi media – campaign, as an example that may be used (or not) for the upcoming European Citizens Initiatives. It’s surprising that a campaign that is not uncontroversial in the fisheries policy community but that actually tackles quite a concrete yet complex problem is widely ignored in analyses of latest developments of EU social media.

The campaign addresses mainly EU policy-making, including ministers in the EU Council, and it uses most means of current social media communications (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, mobile apps) is such a blind spot in all those EU social media talks I have heard or read about in the recent year.

Why is that so? Too much policy? Too much anti-cliché as it is a non-eurosceptic campaign started in the UK? Too much mix of old and new media, old-style lobbying and new-style campaigning?

20 Responses to Hugh’s Fish Fight or: The blind spot of the EU social media gurus

  1. avatar laurensv says:

    Flemish is not a language. The Belgian site is badly done, titles are in French, other copy in Dutch.
    That part at least is a good example on how not to campaign in Belgium.

  2. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    Yep, I also remarked that titles were in French but the text was in Dutch. Nobody knows how to deal “properly” with Belgium… 😉

  3. avatar Jon Worth says:

    Interesting post.

    2 comments on it…

    First, I don’t quite get my head around Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall. He’s one of those TV characters in the UK who toes a fine line between promoting a good cause, promoting himself, and bashing politics from the point of view of an outsider (and using his TV audience as a way of doing so). That’s not to say his campaign is ineffective – indeed quite the contrary – but I’m not altogether at ease with it.

    Second, the crucial line in your post is:

    True or not, he later claimed that due to his campaign especially the ministers from France and Spain backed down from a joint declaration that was meant to water down the discard ban.

    It is vital to know if this is true or not, and – as yet – we don’t know. The problem the campaign faces (like many equivalents – for example) is the places where the most people are concerned are the places where the politicians already want change to happen – see the map of signatories.

  4. avatar Ronny Patz says:


    I also don’t really know what to make of this campaign and the fact that some ministers backed up from a declaration is by far no sign of success. What I was wondering is why such a campaign is not even critically acknowledged in the many discussions on how social media changes the way politics are made on the EU level.

    The map shows that this is clearly a campaign that is based on the success of a TV personality in the UK, but the tweets earlier this week were quite multilingual (which was the moment when I thought about writing this post). But even if this was a purely UK-based campaign, it’s still surprising that rather “technical” EU politics can get so much attention and keep up the attention for over a year.

    I don’t want to overestimate Hugh’s Fish Fight, but I think many things have been said about many EU social media issue that were much less relevant in terms of concrete policy-making than this one.

  5. avatar mathew says:

    “Yet after a year, this has still not been used by all the social media experts in EU affairs as a good or bad example for an EU social media … campaign”.

    The reason is simple. When you talk to an EU social media expert, the only good examples they will tell you about will be their examples! 😉

    They don’t look at anything else.

  6. avatar Chris says:

    “Yet after a year, this has still not been used by all the social media experts in EU affairs as a good or bad example for an EU social media … campaign”.

    Thanks for the heads up – I’ll certainly use this as a good example when writing about the ECI. BTW, the Commissioner responsible, Maros Sefcovic, frequently uses ACTA and the Arab Spring (both non-Commission examples) as how social media campaigns can work well and be an example for the ECI – he’ll now be able to add this one as well.

  7. avatar Antonia says:

    I think we all use non-EU examples. Certainly loads are shared on Yammer as examples of what works, and I use several when asked to do presentations.

  8. avatar mathew says:

    @Antonia, Quick clarification: by social media experts I generally refer to external consultants trying to sell the Commission the latest shiny new toy…

  9. avatar Ronny Patz says:


    The question is, whether the Fish Fight is actually a good example to use. As Jon points out, the campaign has a lot of support but it’s main success is built on the UK. It runs for a year but despite several relevant donors has not reached the 1 million supporters and by far, if I read the figures correctly, not the quorum in most member states despite a multilingual campaign. That’s what I wanted to point to: It is a pertinent example, but it has not really been looked into although it seems a very good case to study.

    @Chris & Antonia

    I suppose your comment is directed at Mathew, but I did never imply that anyone was using only her/his own examples. For me the campaign shows however that when talking about EU social media we all may have our blind spots. That when we talk about lacking attention to EU policies in the media or the inability to get people interested in so-called “technical” topics we may underestimate the level of attention these things already get. And again, I’m not saying you personally are saying this, but I hear this all too often.

  10. avatar Simon Blackley says:

    Excellent post! Thanks for drawing attention to this campaign as an example of how public (and social media) interest in “EU affairs” is often badly underestimated.

    You are right that we (the Commission and its communication contractors) still tend to focus almost exclusively on ‘top-down’ communication. In the social media, bottom-up is infinitely more powerful. The Commission should do more listening, and engage with and where appropriate endorse local initiatives and campaigns. This means learning to trade control for influence.

    Will the ECI make a real difference? I still think it has the potential to do so…

  11. avatar Chris says:

    @Ronny I don’t think the fact that this is mainly a UK campaign, or that it doesn’t have 1m followers, is notnecessarily a problem – if what HFW says is true, the campaign has worked, and that is surely all that matters?

  12. avatar Ronny Patz says:


    Well, the negotiations on the fisheries policy reform will continue until the end of the year, so the fact that a declaration by a minority of member states was not backed in an orientation debate may be a small success for a campaign or this size. Which does not say it is irrelevant, especially given the general lack of attention policy fields like fisheries have in the general media.

  13. avatar Chris says:

    @Ronny a small success indeed, but worth flagging up I think in the broader context of the ECI of what can in general be achieved through ciizen-led campaigns, as we like to say in Euroland 😉

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  15. Thanks for blogging this communications casus. As former Dutch footballplayer Johann Cruyff puts it: asking the right question is giving the answer.

    As a think-doer I propose to set up a meeting with blogger and commenters, to discuss how internet could be used effectively for continuous interaction between citizens and EU politics.

  16. avatar Dana says:

    Thanks for this post, Ron! The campaign was actually part of our media analysis on the AGRI/FISH Council (we regularly send to colleagues analysis of the (social) media coverage of the Council topics).
    Out of the 130,000 tweets (containing the #fishfight hashtag), over 1,000 were directed to the Twitter account of the Council’s Press Office (@EUCouncilpress). Even Jamie Oliver mentioned us :-))

    The Klout score of our twitter account increased by 10 points. We were clearly identified as a target of the campaign. As you correctly point out, we also used the hashtag, in order to show receptivity to the high number of tweets coming in. We also retweeted the Danish minister adding the hashtag (by the way: she was also interviewed by Hugh). Personally, I would have expected more commentary around the actual discussion in the Council (streamed live!). A symptom of slacktivism?

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