Of Fish and Foe review – gripping tale of seals, salmon and saboteurs

Wiliam ButinJuly 29, 2019

Clashes between pro-wildlife protesters and Scottish net fishers over the shooting of predators are the focus of this lively documentarydocumentary about conflict between Scottish net fishermen, hunt saboteurs, police, anglers and EU legislative wonks might sound like cinematic Valium, but this film, co-directed and produced by Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier, makes for surprisingly gripping viewing. For starters, regardless of whose side you find yourself taking as the story progresses – and there are several options – the landscape around Montrose in Angus, in north-eastern Scotland, where this was shot, is consistently spectacular, with its shards of islands, eerie slanting summer sunlight and quixotic seas.

The argument at the heart of the movie is a microcosm of what’s going on all over the UK, where battle lines are constantly being drawn between agricultural and commercial interests, environmentalists, police and parts of the legal establishment. Here, there are the Pullars, a clan who have been net fishing these waters for centuries and feel as if their very way of life and livelihood is under threat. Their main rivals are a team of animal rights protesters, led by indomitable southerner Jessie Treverton, who object to the Pullars’ licensed killing of grey seals that snatch salmon out of the Pullars’ nets. The hunt sabs also decry how these fishing methods harm endangered species of sea birds, and they’re not keen on people eating salmon in the first place. In one near-farcical interlude, the two sides obsessively film one another on GoPro cameras, mobile phones and other cameras to try to catch each other breaking the law.
Wearily, the local cops trudge out regularly to referee the disputes, and one of the Pullar men gets into trouble for using homophobic and xenophobic language. Meanwhile, shadowy figures who represent the interests of anglers, and the tourism industry that accommodates anglers, have their own dogfish in this fight and would like to curtail the net fishers. Swap foxes for seals and lambs for salmon, and the whole thing could be playing out in the Cotswolds. Heathcote and Bachelier try to stay neutral in their observations, which could lead to lively post-screening debates.

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• Of Fish and Foe is released in the UK on 26 July.

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