Wednesday, 12 January 2011

has Hugh been conned by fishermen?

I watched the first episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new series on Channel 4 Hugh's Big Fish Fight. He was talking mostly about the wasteful practice of throwing back into the sea dead fish that fishermen are not allowed to land (discards). We can all agree that something should be done about it, but Hugh's belief that the fishermen are the heroes and the Brussels bureaucrats and scientists are the problem does not stand up to scrutiny.

Let me suggest a sequence of events:-
  1. fishermen get a quota for cod

  2. they catch as much cod as they can, up to their quota

  3. they spend the rest of the year going after other species of fish but with a considerable bycatch of cod, maybe 50%, maybe more

  4. they cannot land the cod because they are over their quota

  5. they throw vast quantities of dead cod into the sea
Is this a realistic scenario? Is this really what the problem is all about?

The fishermen that Hugh spoke to seemed to think that there were plenty of cod in the sea and that quotas should go. He spoke to a scientist who explained that cod were only just beginning to recover in numbers and it would be foolish to catch more of them now. The fishermen didn't want to believe the scientists though. I'm sure that the former fishermen of Newfoundland thought the same way before they destroyed their own fish stocks.

One of the fishermen that Hugh spoke to said that he threw away a netfull of cod for the half dozen dover sole he could sell. They should not be allowed to do this. Maintaining fish stocks are so important that we cannot continue to allow their future to be in the hands of uneducated men who are only interested in money.

There are a number of things we can do. First, stop all subsidy of the fishing industry. Most people don't realize that fishermen are subsidized by the taxpayer. Just like farmers. As far as I can tell, the recent cutbacks are not going to touch them.

Alternatively, as with the farmers, continue with some subsidy but make sure they have to do what we want them to do in return for payment. They're not going to like that, any more than farmers did. Farmers complained about farming being 'nationalized'.

We could ban all new investment in fishing. Especially of the big million pound boats. We shouldn't allow any new boats.

There should be sanctions against fishermen who land vast quantitities of cod all in one go. They should be forced to land smaller quantities throughout the year. That is the best way to avoid bycatch. Not ending quotas. Quotas should be more stringent to allow cod stocks to recover, then there will be many times more cod in the sea.

Another possibility is that if fishermen reach their quota in any species, they should not be allowed out to fish. This will make it difficult for them to earn money, but any effective quota system is going to do that anyway. In some cases they could be financially compensated for this.

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