TV chef is now as sick as a parrotfish

August 22, 2003

Celebrity chef Sophie Grigson reacted with discomfort this week to an academic's claim that one of her recipes might contribute to the extinction of coral reefs.

In her book Fish, which she co-authored with William Black, Ms Grigson attempted to spice up British dining tables with a recipe for "gaudy" parrotfish. But research published in the journal Science this month links the disappearance of large herbivores such as the parrotfish to the destruction of coral reefs.

"Had I known for sure that the fishing of parrotfish was contributing to the destruction of coral reefs, I would probably not have included a recipe for it," Ms Grigson told The THES. "The whole issue of fishing is a minefield, from the overfishing of cod to the potential havoc wreaked by fish-farming, and that is just on our own doorstep."

A team of 17 international scientists endorsed the research, which calls for at least 30 per cent of the world's coral reef to become a no-fishing zone. The researchers found that when coral reefs are disturbed by changes such as global warming or pollution, algae take over and eventually kill the coral.

The parrotfish are vital because they eat the algae before they smother the coral.

One of the paper's authors, David Bellwood, director of the Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity at James Cook University in Australia, said: "By removing the parrotfish, people are removing the capacity of the reefs to recover and this is a major problem."

By also eating dead corals, the parrotfish effectively act as the "garbage collectors of the reef". Professor Bellwood found that the giant bumphead parrotfish eats five metric tons of coral a year.

He said: "When corals die on a reef, if there is no parrot-fish, the debris just sits there."

He added that parrotfish had been "all but decimated" throughout large parts of the Pacific and urged British diners not to turn to parrotfish for their novelty value.

"What they are getting is a nice meal, but some reef somewhere else in the world is paying the price in an ecological sense. It's basically like me sitting in Australia and eating badgers."

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