Stephen Eades – What do fishermen think as they see their stocks shrink and disappear? – Jan 15

When it comes to declining fish stocks you would imagine that the most ardent conservationists would be the fishermen themselves. After all, if anyone has a genuine material interest in seeing healthy stocks, it has to be fishermen.

The economic argument — the huge uplift in income that lands on the fishing industry’s doorstep if stocks are rebuilt — has been graphically recorded by the New Economics Foundation in their publication Jobs Lost at Sea.

NEF says that if 43 overfished European stocks were restored to a level where they could realise their maximum potential to fishermen — their maximum sustainable yield — then the following results would occur:

  • 3.5 million tonnes more fish would be landed each year to feed the EU’s 160 million citizens.
  • An additional £2.7 billion would be generated in revenues each year from these landings, of which £1.5 billion would go directly to the EU countries.
  • 100,000 new jobs would be created, of which 83,000 would be in EU countries and, as a result the EU fishing industry would experience a 31% uplift in jobs.

The question is, do the people and organisations who run the fishing industry actually see things in the same way?

This means the industry being prepared to become seriously involved in a managed programme for rebuilding stocks. Some fishermen think that any restraint on their right to fish — the quota system — is an unjustified restraint of their right to unfettered fishing. This was all too evident when Scottish fishermen were caught ignoring quotas and landing over £60 million of fish illegally — that’s a theft comparable to Britain’s biggest bank robberies! Other fishermen, who agree to a degree of conservation and stock rebuilding — because the stock is about to go commercially extinct — allow the stock to be restored, and then immediately go and fish it to death all over again.

Of course not all fishermen, nor even anywhere near the majority of these fine seafarers are criminals or stupidly greedy. Rather the problem rests with a few, many of who are not British. Indeed they are a rich, powerful and influential clique — speak to any former UK Fisheries Minister and they will tell you how influential! Have a look at the following facts:

  • 43% of the English fishing quota is held by foreign controlled fishing companies.
  • The 5 largest foreign controlled vessels hold 32% of the English fishing quota.
  • 1 Dutch controlled vessel holds 23% of the English fishing quota.
  • When it comes to the UK fishing quota as a whole, this is owned by 5 vessels.

And what about the small fisherman, the fishermen with boats under 10 metres in length who make up three-quarters of the English fleet? How big is the English fishing quota held by this group of fishermen — the answer is 4% !

The small fisherman is going out of business. The fishing practices of the small boat fishermen are nearly always ecologically sound, and the charge of over-fishing can rarely ever be laid at their door. They are the “salt of the sea”.

No, the problem lies with the large fishing companies, many foreign owned, who are running a monopolistic business. It is they who are over-fishing the stocks to death, and forever claiming that quotas are unreasonable and a restraint on their historic rights to fish. In this deadly endeavour they are massively supported by EU fishing subsidies — they’d be uneconomic and go bankrupt if they were not — and all that really concerns them is money. What will they say as the last fish disappears? Mmm, and now you can pay me a subsidy for decommissioning my boat!

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