For people who care about their food

Water out of fish…

A trawler with empty netsThe scarcity of fish in the world’s oceans has been a recurring theme in the media for years. Some of you may remember the Cod Wars of the late 1950s (I don’t remember those!) and early/mid 1970s, when current affairs programmes were suggesting that we’d have to switch to alternatives to cod if the Icelanders wouldn’t allow us access to the fishing grounds off Iceland.

More recently, there have been widespread protests that the Common Fisheries Policy agreed at Brussels has been honoured by some EU member states’ fishing fleets more in the breach than in the observance, with complaints not just of overfishing but also of catches of immature fish. And we now seem to be reaching a point where there’s a real danger of a complete collapse in stocks of certain species of fish – the five most popular in Britain (cod, haddock, prawns, tuna, plaice, which account for 80% of seafood sold) being among those most under threat.

Scientists are pretty clear that there is a very real danger of this, and that it can only be averted by much tighter limits on fishing. In 2007, for example, they recommended to EU ministers that the EU fishing fleets shouldn’t catch more than about 15,000 tonnes of bluefin tuna a year, to allow the species to recover. (A limit of 10,000 tonnes would have been better still.)

However, EU ministers – mindful of the short-term effects on their fishing industries – set a limit of 29,000 tonnes, which itself would be enough to guarantee the collapse of the species. Illegal and unreported fishing meant that the actual amount landed was over 60,000 tonnes; more than four times the maximum recommended by the scientists, and more than six times the ideal amount!



And this isn’t unusual; the CFP quotas are routinely between a quarter and a third higher than the scientists’ recommended limits. To make matters even worse, fish caught over quota have to be dumped – even though they’re already dead – and sometimes even more are thrown over the side than are landed.

This is pretty dismal stuff. Yet it’s not entirely hopeless. The experiences of the Norwegian and US fishing fleets show that careful management of fishing, including the creation of  Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) where trawling is banned, can enable endangered fish species to recover very quickly – within a decade – albeit at the cost of cutting the fleets’ activities, which in turn can force many boats out of business. And co-operation between the Scottish, Dutch, Swedish and Danish herring fleets is helping ensure that herring doesn’t go the same way as the Big Five.

The British government is also taking action, with a commitment to create MPAs in UK waters by 2012 – a commitment shared by other EU member states in respect of their own waters. But fears are widespread that it may be too little, too late, unless the various fishing ministers can also rein in their countries’ fleets. So we may all have to get used to eating pollack, ling and flounder instead of cod, haddock and plaice…

2 Responses to “Water out of fish…”

  1. John

    The more I research about over fishing, the more it depresses me. Quotas do not work. In any case, here in Europe, most of the fish we eat comes from outside the EU. If we continue in this manner then by 2048 we may only have jellyfish left.
    Marine Protected Areas are a proven way of protecting marine life. They also have the advantage of being straightforward to police. Fishing vessels found in them should expect to be impounded. We need to keep the pressure on our elected representatives to ensure that the marine environment is protected.
    I will not post links on here unless you contact me to approve. The information can be found through a search engine but there is a film out in the UK on 8 June 2009 called “End of the Line” I am looking forward to seeing it. The website has lots more information and how changing your buying habits can make a difference. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has information on which types of fish are sustainable. Look for the MSC label on the fish products you buy.

  2. Not Delia

    Hi John

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Nice to ‘meet’ you again after crossing paths with you on Paul’s travel blog.

    Quotas don’t work – true. They’re set by politicians, not by scientists – and politicians are invariably looking towards the next election rather than 20 years’ time. So it’s far better for them if they can put off taking action in the short term.

    I wasn’t aware that most of the fish consumed in the EU came from outside, but it seems very likely. I wonder what provisions the Thai government, for example, have in place to manage their fisheries? Scary thought.

    By all means let’s keep the pressure up. The fishing industry certainly will be for the other side – who wants job losses imposed in the midst of a depression?

    MSC – I came across their site when I was researching the original article. But I don’t know anything about them except that they’re a Good Thing. Thanks for the heads up, I’ve now added them to my links.

    I appreciated your courtesy in not adding links on here without asking first. Please feel free to add links in comments in future when you think they’re useful. BTW, I’d also welcome a guest blogger post from you if you wanted to write more on the subject.

    And a final thought about what you wrote:

    “If we continue in this manner then by 2048 we may only have jellyfish left.”

    They eat jellyfish in many Asian countries. Jellyfish salad is quite common on menus in this region. I suppose it’s just a cultural thing that westerners don’t (yet) eat jellyfish, otherwise they might be doomed too.

    Thanks again for dropping in and commenting.


Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS