Letters: Managing fisheries

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We must have economic management to preserve our fisheries

Sir: I do not agree that the minister of the environment would prove to be a better steward of our marine resources than the fisheries minister (leading article, 22 December|). Most fisheries ministers are incompetent managers of fisheries. And they will remain so until there is real economic management of the fisheries.

There are a few countries, notably Namibia, where the economic importance of the resource dictates the management regime but in Europe, as in Canada, fish resources are used as a substitute for unemployment benefit, and as long as this continues to be the policy imperative, so the resources will dwindle. Finally, after years of destructive measures, the Common Fisheries Policy now has regulations which could make a difference were it not for the continued tolerance by ministers of the industry's suicidal self-delusion. The CFP's theoretical basis of open access is directly contrary to the principles of good resource management.

The solution is to take the management out of the hands of the ministers and to bring in rational management. That means pricing the resource so the users pay, just as the users of other resources pay. Rights can be allocated to existing players and the resource allocated by means of an auction or some other similar transparent allocation system. Total allowable catch would be set by a third party and EU rules could be respected by allowing citizens of member states equal access to bidding or rights where these exist.

Finally, a fail-safe mechanism against excessive exploitation could be introduced in a performance bond taken out by the lessee, which could be cashed in if the resource value did not meet its projected target. Until something like this is done, each succeeding minister of fisheries will continue to destroy the resources they are supposed to care for in our names.



Mayor's tax plan revitalised city

Sir: In discussing poverty and crime (Opinion, 26 December), perhaps we should listen to the Mayor of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania in the United States.

With the loss of mining and heavy industries, Harrisburg was suffering as a part of the rust belt of North America, and more than 20 years ago they introduced a successful new policy.

The Mayor claims much crime is committed by people with little money in their pockets, much free time on their hands and living in rundown areas with little civic pride.

The Mayor's new policy? An annual land value tax where landowners are not taxed on the value of their buildings but on the value of their land.

Harrisburg's annual land value tax resulted in the city's empty and under-used sites being reduced by 85 per cent. New firms started up and there was much inward investment.

Businesses paying taxes to the city grew from 1,900 to almost 9,000. Unemployment fell by 19 per cent and 5,000 homes were built.

Now, with swaths of the city smartened up, civic pride is returning, many people who were previously unemployed have jobs, they have money in their pockets, their time is fully occupied and Harrisburg's crime has fallen by a massive 58 per cent.

If John Reid, our Home Secretary, really wants to reduce crime, perhaps he should be asking Gordon Brown to introduce annual land value tax over here.



World must help Turkmenistan

Sir: Stephen Castle in his article "Farewell to the Turkmenbashi" (22 December) provides a good account of the horrendous regime of Saparmurat Niyazov. While he adequately describes the human rights abuses in Turkmenistan, an equally tragic consequence of Niyazov's regime was a wide-spread public health crisis.

The health of the country's population has suffered the consequences of dictatorship, the dismantling of the health system, and the complicity of the authorities in drug-smuggling and abuse, and was worse than in any other country in Central Asia.

Even if Niyazov's death should result in a more democratic form of government (far from certain), it would take decades to overcome the regime's disastrous legacy.

The education sector has been effectively destroyed and a generation has been indoctrinated with Niyazov's bizarre personality cult; many educated Turkmen have fled the country.

The great powers with strategic interests in the region (China, Russia, the US) have blatantly ignored the poor human rights and public health situation in Turkmenistan. Perhaps Niyazov's death will act as a wakeup call for the international community?

As a start, Deutsche Bank could freeze Niyazov's offshore accounts, to which billions of dollars were transferred, while much of Turkmenistan's population live in abject poverty.



Libya's blatant affront to justice

Sir: Basing a conviction on evidence obtained under torture, and in spite of well-founded protests, flies in the face of every moral and legal argument. To do it twice, and with the virtual complicity of European governments, sets a dangerous precedent ("Libya sentences nurses to death in HIV infection case", 20 December).

From the outset of the first trial against the Bulgarian medics accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV, there has been world-wide condemnation of the prosecution's reliance on flawed anecdotal evidence and the court's refusal to allow an expert inquiry. More worryingly, the court has for the second time accepted "confessions" extracted through beatings and electric shocks, when it is widely known that anyone subjected to unrelenting brutality will say anything to end their suffering.

Yet while the world protests their innocence, the Libyan government has maintained a steely determination to convict the medics regardless, undoubtedly bolstered by Europe's eagerness to turn a blind eye in favour of pursuing trade negotiations.

The UK has gone one regrettable step further in disregarding international human rights law for political ends.

Since the overturning of the medics' first conviction, Tony Blair has entered into negotiations with one of the world's most unrepentant dictators by agreeing to "diplomatic assurances" with Libya, enabling the UK to return foreign suspects knowing there is an undeniable risk of torture.

Given the mounting evidence against Libya, now would be an opportune moment for the UK and the rest of Europe to wake up and reverse its approach by condemning Libya's blatant affront to justice.



Cheap engineering shames Britain

Sir: Yet again a proposal for wind power is set against fierce opposition to the damage caused in this case not by the turbines themselves but by the shore-based infrastructure that goes with them.

As in many other cases, the harm done to the location of these projects is done not by the turbines but by the huge concrete bases and even more by the maze of access roads crudely blasted through often rugged and paradoxically fragile landscapes.

If I wish to build an extension to my house, the planners insist on a range of prescriptions on bulk, siting, materials and so on. The principles of seeking to protect the broader urban environment are justified.

No such care seems to be taken in the case of civil engineering, where it seems only the cheapest will do. Thus we get the "crude contractor's diagram" of the so-called Second Severn Crossing or the hated Skye Bridge, both golden opportunities for something fine and uplifting in a dramatic setting. The Second Severn Crossing even has the old bridge just upstream to show what could be done.

But always we must have the crudest, cheapest version; even the controversial East London river crossing has ditched the beautifully understated design by Calatrava for more of the same.

Yet it is not the same everywhere. The Millau viaduct in southern France is certainly extravagant but it punctuates the dramatic landscape in way worthy of the best railway viaducts.

In Switzerland and Italy, real efforts are made to produce engineering worthy of the scenery and purpose of such projects.

If they can afford it, surely we can. At least we could site the transformers on a site that has already been wrecked; there is no shortage of them in the Thames estuary.



Emissions trading can be effective

Sir: The Government has consistently been calling for aviation to be included in the ETS as soon as possible, in a scheme that must be environmentally effective (article, 21 December).

Last week's proposal from the European Commission responds to the call from the Council of Ministers, and is an important step forward in ensuring the international community lives up to its responsibilities to tackle aviation emissions. And from 2012, the Commission wants to include international flights to and from the EU, including transatlantic ones.

It is wrong to doubt the effectiveness of emissions trading, and to claim tax is a more effective means of reducing emissions. As analysis for the Air Transport White Paper shows, demand for aviation will grow even if the full cost of carbon is charged. Taxes have an important part to play, but emissions trading also forces airlines to consider what they can do to reduce emissions.

Unlike a tax, even if they can't reduce emissions cost-effectively, a trading scheme demands they secure emissions reductions elsewhere in the economy. Emissions trading creates certainty over the outcome in terms of reduced emissions; a tax does not.

And carbon trading does not benefit the rich and penalise the poor. Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism channels funds to developing countries in response to emissions caps in developed economies, and will be one of the options available to airlines. The more demanding the caps we set in the EU, the more we will encourage investment in developing countries.



Putting the blame where it belongs

Sir: Every year, some newspaper somewhere drags out this story about babies dying because of delays at Israeli checkpoints (article, 23 December). Every year, the Virgin Mary is called a "Palestinian refugee". And every year, the real cause of this tragedy is ignored, Arab Muslim intransigence on Israel's right to exist.

First, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not a Palestinian refugee. She was a Jew living in her own country. Second, the Israeli checkpoints exist to keep out Arab Muslim homicide bombers sponsored, trained and equipped by the "Palestinian" government and its Arab allies.

The day the "Palestinian refugees" abandon their genocidal campaign to destroy Israel, those checkpoints will go. The blame has always been squarely on the shoulders of Hamas, PLO, Fatah, and other fanatical Arabs who put hatred of Israel above love for their own people.



Police priorities

Sir: If I were a chief constable handling complaints from anti-hunt protesters about delays in attending to burglaries and assaults (article, 26 December), I might be tempted to explain that despite the reported rise in street crime, a number of my hard-pressed officers were being deployed elsewhere protecting cruelty to foxes.



Redundant skills

Sir: Deborah Orr writes: "We've just spent 20 years switching our economy into a skills-based economy, and for a lot of people and communities the process has been pretty damned awful" (Opinion, 20 December). This is to say that 20 years ago we had an unskilled economy. The reality is we have largely destroyed the skills we possessed in agriculture, industry and manufacturing, and replaced them with the superficially attractive skills of the new economy, skills that will prove redundant in the future of climate change and oil and gas depletion.



In praise of the BBC

Sir: Your leading article (23 December) and Richard Ingrams the same day make criticisms of the BBC which do have a basis. But, for the combination of BBC Radio 3 and 4, the World Service, the BBC website, and no advertising on TV, I would willingly pay a £180 licence fee. I experienced TV in the US this year, so please, please do not let us go that route; advertising is disruptive as well as having a concealed influence on what can be broadcast.



Just hot air

Sirs: Alas, Uncle George's niece Susan (Miles Kingston, 22 December) is wrong. The white trails that mark an a plane's passage are made of the same stuff as the mist we exhale on a frosty day. The shape of an plane's wings means it leaves a wake of vortices, spinning air causes water vapour to condense behind it and each trail is formed at a point slightly beyond the end of the wing.



Not for prophet

Sir: Rev Peter Sharp points out Johann Hari's creation of a new book of scripture, Elisha, the name we are told of a second-league prophet at the time of Elijah (Letters, 22 December). Mr Sharp may also like to tell us about another previously little-known prophet, namely "Jeremy", who, according to Joan Bakewell's Holocaust deniers feature in the same issue, was recorded in St Matthew's gospel. Was he the black sheep of Jeremiah's family?



Poet's pub

Sir: Is it not ironic that Dylan Thomas's spiritual hostelry in the town of Laugharne (article, 20 December) is for sale at £1.5m, when one considers how Thomas renamed the town "Llareggub", or "bugger all" backwards. I, for one, would not call £1.5m "Llareggub".