Leading article: We will pay a steep price for our plunder of the oceans

Share
Related Topics

Once again, the annual round of quota haggling between European Union fisheries ministers has put the short-term interests of the fishing industry above the long-term interests of sustainable fisheries. Scottish and English fishermen lobbied hard in the run-up to these talks for a higher quota for North Sea cod. They have been successful. It was announced yesterday that there is to be an 11 per cent rise in the permitted North Sea cod catch in 2008.

The deal has been welcomed as "fair" by the British fisheries minister, Jonathan Shaw, and hailed as "sustainable" by Richard Lochhead of the Scottish executive. One wonders where these two politicians are getting their information from. It is simply wrong to argue that North Sea cod stocks have recovered. Estimates might have shown a small increase in the past two years, but they are still only a quarter to a third of the EU's rebuilding target. Far from recommending an increase in the cod catch, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas advised a 50 per cent reduction.

If we continue to plunder North Sea cod fisheries, they will go into terminal decline. This is not scaremongering. That is precisely what happened to the cod fisheries off the Canadian Grand Banks in the 1990s when politicians and fishermen ignored the scientific warnings about over-fishing. If this happens in the North Sea, the fishermen presently complaining so bitterly about their income, will find their very livelihoods destroyed.

One of the complaints of the fishermen is justified. It is quite true that the present EU quota system is not working. The limits imposed on the amount of fish that vessels can bring back to port (but not the amount of fish they actually catch) is having a counter-productive effect. Some 800,000 tonnes of fish caught by trawlers in the North Sea are being dumped back into the sea. Mr Shaw is right to call this wasteful and immoral. It also destroys the environmental goals of the quotas. But the solution is not to allow fishermen more time at sea or bigger catches. It is to leave the fish alone in the first place.

It should be stressed that over-fishing is by no means exclusively a European problem. A major international scientific study of the seas last year argued that, if present rates of fishing continue, there will be virtually nothing left to fish from the world's seas by the middle of the century. Stocks have collapsed (defined as a decline to less than 10 per cent of their original yield) in one third of sea fisheries. And the rate of decline is accelerating. Bigger vessels, better nets and new technology for spotting shoals are not bringing in bigger returns. In fact, the global catch has fallen by some 10 per cent since 1994.

There is hope. Data from areas where fishing has been banned, or heavily restricted, show that fish stocks and marine diversity can recover given time. We need to create large non-fishing zones in areas where fish stocks are under severe stress. If we cut the global fishing effort in half, it should create the space for stocks to rebuild themselves.

But our political systems are failing to deliver. Over the past 20 years, EU ministers have exceeded safe catch recommendations from scientists each year by an average of 15-30 per cent. And this year's deal for all its emphasis on new "conservation credits" is just as bad. We are faced with a simple choice. We can give our fish stocks time and space to recover something that will enable us to increase our harvest from the seas over time. Or we can continue down the present road which will lead inexorably to oceans denuded of fish.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tony Blair’s time as Middle East envoy representing the US, Russia, the UN and the EU has come to an end  

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Robert Fisk
Sepp Blatter and Vladimir Putin. Was Russia awarded the 2018 World Cup unfairly?  

Fifa arrests: Is it the final whistle for corruption in world football?

Mary Dejevsky
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith