Stephen Eades – Landing the Blame: Over-fishing in the NE Atlantic 2016 – A Reflection on the NEF Document by Marinet Director – Mar 16

The New Economics Foundation report Landing the Blame: Over-fishing in the NE Atlantic 2016 makes it very clear that serious levels of over-fishing are persisting in the NE Atlantic, and are being agreed and administered under the auspices of the CFP.

Is this illegal? The reformed CFP says that the total allowable catch — TACs, also known as ‘quotas’ — must comply with maximum sustainable yield. MSY — effectively, maintaining the stock at a size which allows it to be fished safely year after year — should be complied with by 2015 with non-compliance, only permitted for exceptional reasons, ceasing by 2020. So one would expect ‘non-compliance’ to be falling, with 2016 quotas “improving” on 2015 quotas.

The compilation of EU official figures changes from year to year, making comparisons difficult (is this accidental?). However comparing the same species fished in both years, 20 out of 25 were over-fished in 2015 compared to 18 out of 25 in 2016. At best, a marginal improvement.

More interesting is what is concealed within this marginal improvement. Most countries have, in terms of tonnage of fish landed in excess of scientific advice (MSY), greatly increased the size of their “illegal catch”. For example, the UK has uplifted its excess catch from 68,000 tonnes in 2015 to 90,000 tonnes in 2016. The UK is not alone in this. Out of the EU’s 10 principal fishing countries, 8 have uplifted their landing of fish in excess of scientific advice (the safe level) in 2016 compared to 2015. So by this standard things are getting distinctly worse, not better. And, the industry makes more money too — but at the price of the future.

How do these countries justify this? The answer, they claim, is that they are no longer discarding fish because these fish now have to be landed, so the catch level has to be uplifted to compensate for this. What kind of logic is that!

So, where do we go from here?

It is clear that serious illegality continues to be perpetrated by Fisheries Ministers and decision-makers of most EU countries, whilst they claim — against the evidence — that things are getting better.

Let’s consider who could do something about this.

First there is the politicians themselves. The politicians in power are the authors of this corruption of the law. Those in opposition are silent, although presumably aware of the corruption. Therefore they are complicit. Predictably alas, little hope here.

Next, there is the fishing industry itself. The industry is largely in the hands of large international companies — known as “producer organisations” — who “own” all the quotas. If they had the sense to advocate and permit a rebuilding of stocks to MSY levels (i.e. larger stocks) then they would have a more valuable industry — feeding an extra 89 million people, earning an extra Euro 1.9 billion annually, and creating 20,000 new jobs. However, they are not interested. All they want is money today.

Incidentally, the small fishermen (with boats under 10 metres in length) use sustainable fishing methods. However although they comprise 80% of the fishing fleet, they only get 4% of the quota! The allocation of quota under the reformed CFP is meant to take into account social, economic and environmental issues (sustainability), thus benefiting small boat fishermen. Greenpeace has taken this principle into a Court of Law. The Court ruled — “yes, this is what the law says, but the law does not say by what amount (%) this requirement to support small boat fishermen should be, therefore ‘case dismissed’ ”! As Marinet has observed, another law that’s been designed to fail.

Next, there are the experts — the academics and professors who study these issues, and the scientists who produce such excellent work as the NEF report referred to above. Unfortunately, they draw a line between compiling and explaining the facts, and taking action over the facts. This invisible line “prevents” them from becoming engaged. Why does such an invisible line exist? In the case of universities and similar institutes, they receive their finance from government… and in the case of charities, for whom many of the scientists compiling these reports work, charities are forbidden under charity law from taking political action… Another version of whoever pays the piper calls the tune.

So, who is left? Why, the campaigning environmental organisations, of course! Only, there’s a catch here too. Virtually every environmental organisation (ngo) has now become a charity in order to maximise funds. That means very limited “political action” or they lose their charitable status and, as a result, they have ceased to do any “serious” environmental campaigning. Uncertain about that assertion? Just spend a short while researching the evidence, and you’ll discover that these organisations are now a pale shadow of their former selves.

Therefore, not surprisingly, the Fisheries Ministers and the decision-makers are smiling all over their faces. There is no one to hold them to account.

Of course, there is no shortage of tools in the tool box to put things right.

Real no-take marine reserves (not the puny versions offered by the UK and the EU) will, if centred on fish spawning and nursery grounds, put matters in order in fairly quick time.

Public funds to finance a “conservation regime” are plentiful — the EU Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) has around Euro 1 billion annually available to it. Unfortunately most of it is spent on a fishing “as normal” of stocks, rather than on their restoration.

Then there are one or two journalists and the odd ngo who are prepared to put their heads above the parapet, thereby risking getting it shot off by government, the fishing industry, and the emasculated environmental organisations. Persuasive advocates — but prophets in the wilderness.

Let’s be honest, the situation is bleak. Change is needed.

We need honest politicians. We need enlightened fishermen, and a fair deal for the small boats (80% of the fleet). We need scientists and academics to step outside of their ivory towers with some steel in their spirit. We need well-endowed environmental organisations to stop counting their money and to commit to principle over pragmatism. And, we need one or two judges in the courts of law who can see the spirit behind of the letter of the law.

Wishful thinking, you say.

Maybe, but do you like what you see on the horizon… and do you have an answer that makes greater sense?

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