Newlyn Fish Market - boats due to land.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Something fishy going on in natural treasure trove

This story, from Martin hesp at the Western Morning News, could be repeated the length and breadth of the UK's coastline in order to bring to the public's attention the farcical system of fish quota managment we have ended up with since negotiating the Common Fisheries Policy.

This week I acquired some fish. No big deal, you may think, but it was a lot of fish. So many, I physically couldn’t lift the box out of my car. So that, in itself, was something special. These were sea fish and it’s not often a land-lubber Exmoor boy comes home with a boot groaning with marine creatures. However, I write about my haul here because the story behind these fish was something special. Crazy, idiotic, illogical, but special.
I’ll be vague when it comes to how I got them, because I don’t want to get anyone into trouble. Most readers will know there are strict regulations concerning the catching and landing of fish. The rules, of course, are there for good reason. If there was a free-for-all at sea, the oceans would soon be empty of life. Some fishermen may balk at this, saying they are the best people to safeguard the future of fish because healthy stocks represent their own future. And I am sure that there are many Westcountry fishermen who could be trusted to act as the stewards of the sea. However, there are always rogues, there are trawler-operators from other countries who play by different rules, and there are desperate people who would do anything to earn a few quid. Nevertheless, the current regulations concerning quotas are crazy – as has been so eloquently highlighted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his Fish Fight.
So this week, when I was near the coast and I heard a fishermen claim that one sea-area was alive with haddock, I couldn’t help but take an interest. He put it like this: “There’s so many you could walk across the surface of the sea.”  He also told me: “My boat has a monthly quota for haddock – and we fill that quota in the first four hours of fishing every month.” After that he must seek other species which are either not under quota or where he has a shortfall in his capacity. In doing that, he cannot help but catch more haddock – which cannot be landed and have to be chucked back dead.
By-catch rules will change soon when a new network of red tape is cast out of the EU to tie our fishermen in knots. Many operators fear the new rules even more than existing ones, because they will be prevented from going out to sea the moment a quota is reached. No more hunting for other species. By-catch will become a thing of the past because Westcountry fishermen will be forced to sit on the quay twiddling their thumbs. Or forced out of business altogether. Which is why I am writing this. If there is one thing I love it is seafood – and I cannot believe it is beyond the wit of man to both care for, and harvest, the wealth of our seas.
Now imagine a middle-aged journalist borrowing a boat and rowing offshore to meet a trawler that was going about its lawful, but shamefully wasteful, business – chucking fresh, gleaming haddock back dead into the waves. Imagine the fishermen not noticing the journalist in the rowing boat and accidentally throwing the fish into an open box in its stern. Actually, imagine what you want – as long as you know no money changed hands. There were quite a few residents of one Exmoor valley who were most grateful that those fishermen were so casual when ditching dead fish. I ran out of haddock recipes. It was all very delicious and I was glad to be able to feed neighbours and my own family for free with nutritious food that was otherwise destined to pollute the sea. But this is not a jolly story.
None of what I’ve said above is in the least bit sustainable. The fishermen told me EU policymakers would be much happier in future if there were only a handful of giant super-trawlers fishing the seas because it would be so much easier to monitor who was catching what. That is the exact opposite of the way it should be, which is local fish for local people. It does, however, dovetail with the present situation which sees so many Westcountry fish being instantly exported.
We ought to be doing more to buy, eat and celebrate our fabulous local seafood. If an entire community loves something – if an entire region is passionate about some treasure it is blessed with – then that is the real route towards a sustainable future in which we all make sure that our natural wealth is nurtured and cared for.

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