Stephen Eades – Is our understanding of fish stocks suffering from amnesia or dementia? – Jan 15

Just before Christmas the EU Council of Ministers met to decide 2015 fishing quotas, and BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme did a preview interview. They invited in two experts, one a senior member from the UK fishing industry, and the other a top member of the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee.

You would think these experts would know a thing or two. Especially when they are invited in order to inform the public. First mistake!

Next, one of the experts stated that the stocks of Plaice in the North Sea are now at the highest on record, implying quotas on fishing this stock are to be viewed as “unreasonable”. The other expert did not contest this, and effectively agreed. Second mistake!

These stocks are estimated by scientists at ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea). The ICES scientists say that the current spawning stock is 600,000 tonnes. For the past 60 years the stock has rarely been greater than 300,000 tonnes, and until ten years ago the stock was hovering near the danger level (unable to breed successfully because it is too small). Is the current stock size really the highest on record? No, third mistake!

If you go back and look at the real historical record you will see that the North Sea Plaice stock was estimated in 1880 at around 3,5000,000 tonnes. That’s actually a decline of 85% relative to current levels. So much for the current historic level claimed by the experts!

And what is the situation when we consider the size of other North Sea species and their stocks for 1880 relative to the present day? Surely recent Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) conservation measures have been successful and restored these also to “historic levels”?

No, that would be the fourth mistake! Actually relative to 1880, Mackerel has declined by 85%, Sole has declined by 90%, Cod has declined by 90%, Herring has declined by 99%, and Bluefin tuna is now commercially extinct.

These catastrophic declines in stock size are virtually all due to over-fishing. We’ve raided the North Sea, and left it bare. It’s seabed has been trawled relentlessly, and ecologically it is now a ghost of its former self.

So why do the experts claim that stocks are improving, that quotas can be ramped up, that things are on the up?

Have they, like an amnesiac, forgotten what the historic data actually says?

Or, like a person suffering from dementia, have they simply lost their mental faculties?

Or, are they so used to exploiting our seas to the point of oblivion that, like an addict, they no longer have the will-power to change their behaviour, believing that somehow their addiction will see them right?

Marinet knows the answer. Do you? If so, think about it a bit more. Perhaps, you might conclude, now is the time to join us.

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