mercoledì, luglio 28, 2004

Fish Tonight?

The EU has criticised several Member States for over-fishing and various other breaches of the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy). The rogue states, if they can be termed that way, are Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, with infringement procedures being initiated against both the UK and France as well.

The CFP has long been a thorn in the flesh of the UK, with it carrying the blame for causing the decline of the fishing industry in the UK - particularly in Scotland. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) is speaking out strongly against the policy, with the Fund's Marine Fisheries Policy Officer, Louise Heaps, saying; "After 20 years under the CFP, many of our commercially important fish stocks have been fished beyond sustainable levels". She goes on to say; "The European Union currently subsidises its fishing fleet to the tune of 1.4 billion euros (£868 million) a year, much of which is invested in expanding fishing capacity instead of recovery plans for many of our important fish stocks".

The UK has long been reliant on fishing for the survival of a great many communities around the coasts of England, Wales and Scotland, with the largest fishing fleets being historically on the Eastern side of the country. The fishing industry in the UK suffered from the vast overfishing of Herring in the north sea as long ago as the early 20th century, with many of the herring fleets disappearing in the space of a very short period of time due to the absence of fish caused by the overfishing. In the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's there were the so-called 'Cod Wars' between the UK and Iceland, after Iceland imposed, finally, a 200 mile exclusion zone around its shores, thereby preventing the, by now, large British deep water fleet from fishing for its staple target, cod.

That resulted in large numbers of large, deep-water vessels being scrapped and massive unemployment in the fishing ports that had harboured them. It is interesting to see that the original Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, was one of those laid-up trawlers - I recall it being sold to them for around £8000 at the time - the normal asking price at the time for a decommissioned deep water trawler.

The loss of the cod fishing grounds forced the deep-water boats to move closer to land as well, forcing the mid-water trawlers even closer to shore, leaving the inshore fishermen, usually with much smaller vessels, to complain that they, in turn, were finding reduced fish due to the larger, more efficient boats competing for the ever dwindling fish stocks. I recall myself that the Scottish mid-water boats were all heading for the south coast of England, fishing with large Purse Seine nets and Pelagic trawls to the intense annoyance of the local English fishermen.

The Scottish boats were soon joined by large Spanish trawlers and even larger Russian factory ships with their fleets of smaller feeder boats that were very soon clearing the waters of just about every living thing - big or small made no difference to them - especially the Russian ships that processed all of the fish on board into a fish paste for shipping directly back to Russia.

The result of all of this overfishing is wholly predictable, of course. The fishing nations try ever-harder to protect what they see as their own rights to fish in waters they consider to be theirs - as well as the fishermen themselves investing in larger, more efficient and technically well equipped boats to help find the increasingly ellusive fish. Not the best way to preserve anything - but fishermen and the related industries are a very strong force, politically.

The EU Common Fisheries Policy was set up in 1982, with the intention of protecting the fishing industries of the Member States. Not, you may notice, to protect the actual fish themselves. The CFP introduced subsidies for the larger ships that had been built to catch the increasingly ellusive fish. They introduced a quota system that was determined not by scientific evaluation, but by political shouting and bullying. The fishermen saw all of this as meddling and continued to ignore the quota's wherever they could - but happily took the subsidies, which they then used to build even more advanced fishing boats for harvesting the few remaining fish.

It isn't as though there are no precedents for what is happening, either. The fishing industry in Canada, in the Newfoundland province, used to be huge, not that many years ago. Their principle fishing grounds were over the Grand Banks, where the main catch was cod. Overfishing caused virtually a complete collapse of the industry there, which even after 10 years of a strict ban of fishing in the whole area, has not seen the return of cod to a fishable level.

I have been talking so far about the Atlantic industry as it is one that I have a limited personal knowledge of (I used to own a fishing trawler back in the 1970's whilst living in Orkney). The situation in the Mediterranean is no different, with rapidly declining stocks of tuna (down 30%) and hake (down 70%) causing anxiety amongst the fishing communities in every country with a fishing fleet reliant on catching tuna, hake, or any of the other threatened species of fish for its survival. The same problems exist there as well, although there is another issue surrounding the 'tuna farms' which are absorbing wild tuna, without having to declare the fish caught under present EU legislation. Amazingly, tuna 'farmed' in this way in the Mediterannean now account for over half of the world's total tuna catch.

It's enough to make one want to be a vegan, isn't it.


At venerdì, luglio 30, 2004 9:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonimo said...

Thanks for this. I've linked to it as part of a discussion of similar issues arising from a Gabon fishery plan.

Jonathan Edelstein


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