We must take a tougher line on fishing to save marine life from further decline

Share

The folly of our seemingly unshakeable conviction that there will always be "plenty more fish in the sea" has long been apparent to scientists who have studied our dwindling fish stocks. Yesterday the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) published perhaps the most sobering analysis yet of the parlous state of the UK's fisheries. The authors argue that if we continue to harvest the sea on the present industrial scale, our fish populations will eventually collapse. Our waters will share the fate of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, whose once vast cod stocks were wiped out by over-fishing in the early 1990s.

The folly of our seemingly unshakeable conviction that there will always be "plenty more fish in the sea" has long been apparent to scientists who have studied our dwindling fish stocks. Yesterday the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) published perhaps the most sobering analysis yet of the parlous state of the UK's fisheries. The authors argue that if we continue to harvest the sea on the present industrial scale, our fish populations will eventually collapse. Our waters will share the fate of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, whose once vast cod stocks were wiped out by over-fishing in the early 1990s.

The Royal Commission's report, however, does more than merely sound the alarm. It recommends a totally new approach to fishing policy. The marine environment of the entire European Union is governed by a presumption in favour of fishing. The commission thinks that ought to be reversed. Instead of seeking to protect marine life on a stock by stock basis, we should ban fishing in designated areas.

The rationale for this demarcation of the seas is straightforward. Fish in protected areas tend to survive longer and produce more young. As their numbers swell, young fish will inevitably spill outside the protected areas, and into waters where they can be farmed by commercial fishermen. It represents a way of regulating fishing that will not only preserve marine ecology, but - at the same time - provide sufficient stocks for our fishing industry.

What is more, it has been shown to work. A similar scheme operated on Georges Bank, off the North American coast, has been successful in regenerating scallop stocks. The governments of New Zealand and South Africa plan to introduce protected areas in their waters. But our own government seems already to have rejected the idea. The Fisheries minister, Ben Bradshaw, says such action would be too drastic; he argues that the reductions made to Scotland's whitefish fishing fleet to protect our North Sea cod stocks have effectively solved the problem of over-fishing. We should, he argues, let these reforms take effect before rushing into any grand new schemes.

This is sheer complacency. While our cod stocks may eventually recover, there is no guarantee that they, or other species, will not be threatened again in the future. The use of ever more intensive fishing methods - some fleets use nets as wide as 50 football pitches - suggests that unless we radically alter our practices there will always be a problem. This is by no means just a British dilemma. Commercially fished populations are down between 15 and 30 per cent the world over. The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas has repeatedly warned that intensive farming of the oceans is unsustainable. It is also vital to recognise that no country can regulate commercial fishing in isolation. Shoals of fish do not respect national boundaries, and there will always need to be a degree of co-operation between nations over fishing rights. Even if we wanted to, Britain could not unilaterally declare one third of our waters protected, because we are bound by the EU's common fisheries policy.

In one sense, this makes it harder for Britain to conserve its fish stocks. The clout of French, Portuguese and Spanish fishermen vis-à-vis their respective governments is substantially greater than that of our fishing industry. It would not be easy to implement an EU-wide scheme to protect the seas. But the apparatus of the EU does mean that if agreement is reached, it could be rapidly implemented. Our government, which likes to proclaim its green credentials, must press for the overhaul of the common fisheries policy.

Fishing communities would undoubtedly suffer. Any government would have a duty to ensure they receive adequate compensation, plus substantial transitional grant aid to their regions. But the pain of those communities would be as nothing compared to what would be felt when the oceans are emptied of fish.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager

£40000 - £43000 Per Annum plus company bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Hydrographic Survey Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Structural Engineer

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Structural Engineer Job...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHELTENHAM - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - A...

Day In a Page

Read Next
James Foley was captured in November 2012 by Isis militants  

Voices in Danger: Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists

Anne Mortensen
Texas Gov. Rick Perry might try to run for president again in 2016  

Rick Perry could end up in jail for the rest of his life — so why does he look so smug?

David Usborne
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape