Letters: Perspectives on Britain's fisheries

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EC policy is incoherent

Calum Roberts displays his usual superficial and one-sided views on the North Sea fisheries as he describes high-grading (report, 18 November). What Professor Roberts omitted to say was that high-grading in the North Sea has been banned since 2008.

But he might also have drawn attention to Technical Conservation Regulation EC 870/98 that requires fishing-vessels to discard fish when they have shoaled and been caught in the "wrong percentages", which are the quota levels scientists have predicted that massive levels of discards will result in.

All this confirms the incoherence at the heart of the Common Fisheries Policy; despite its rhetoric, the Commission's present policies lead to an increase rather than a decrease in discarding.

There are many ways in which discards can be reduced and eventually eliminated. The most successful work with the fishermen. The 50 per cent project in the South-west has recently demonstrated that it is possible to reduce discards by more than 50 per cent by working with the grain of the industry. Another initiative is the catch-quota approach which will be suitable for some fisheries.

But all the signs are that the decisions to be made at the December Council of Ministers will worsen rather improve the discard situation. This is why the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations supports Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fight for Fish campaign.

Barrie Deas, Chief Executive, National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, York

Give us back our own grounds

I very much agree with Nigel Farage MEP that we should take back control of our fishing (Letters, 22 November). Handing control of our fishing grounds to Brussels by Edward Heath when he took usy into the Common Market in 1973 was bitterly resented by the fishing industry.

The fleets from continental Europe were now free to fish inshore around the British Isles. British fleets had their catch quotas determined by Brussels. In Scotland, the fishing communities, unsurprisingly, had no desire to vote Conservative, so they switched to Scottish Nationalist. SNP MPs represent constituencies in the Western Isles, Highlands, around the shores of the Moray Firth and the North-east.

These are areas with a long history of involvement in the fishing industry. This stretches back to the abundant days of the herring industry, when exporting barrels of salted herring was a major business.

Now Scottish fishermen are in dispute with Iceland and the Faroe Islands over quotas of mackerel. Is the Westminster government prepared to support our fishermen, in the same way that the Icelandic and Faroese governments support their fishing industries?

"The Scots are greedy for North Sea Oil revenues," shouts the press. Come off it. Fishing is a much, much bigger factor in the upsurge in Scottish Nationalism in recent years. Our government should show itself to be a strong government, and take back control of our fishing grounds.

George Bruce, Warrington, Cheshire

Punishment, not policing

I am a mature student, aged 64, and I was at this week's student protest in Trafalgar Square and the short march down Whitehall. Most participants looked like schoolchildren of 15 to 17. They were good-humoured and well-mannered.

The march was stopped before Parliament Square and was corralled by police officers and police vehicles, in the procedure known as kettling (more accurately, unlawful detention).

Being an old fogey, I was allowed through the police line with my companion of similar age. The schoolchildren were not and it was the intention of the police to keep them there and "bore them to death" as one officer put it. We left before 2pm and, when we passed at 6pm, the police cordon still held the children captive.

There can only have been one reason for this and that was to punish and humiliate the protesters. Little wonder that some unruly behaviour resulted (it had been peaceful when we left). Then the cavalry moved in, apparently. "Appropriate and proportionate" will no doubt be the old cliche trotted out by the Met.

Believe that if you like. But it is now apparent that protest is not only disapproved of, it is being deliberately suppressed by overwhelming force.

Richard Monteith, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

A handful of protesters rise to the bait and smash a deserted police van. The police respond by imposing a collective punishment on thousands of peaceful protesters by kettling them for hours. This smacks of spiteful revenge by the police for what happened two weeks ago and an attempt to show "who's the boss".

Phil Webster, Clitheroe, Lancashire

Think big, Mr Miliband

Steve Richards is right to caution Ed Miliband against supporting the Coalition (Comment, 23 November). We need another centre-right party like we need more programmes on cookery, and timing is on Miliband's side. Up till now, the main casualties of neo-liberalism have been the "underclass", the unskilled, the uneducated and the powerless, those who tend not to vote. The next phase will take in those on moderate incomes who still rely on public services for health, education, pensions and support in times of crisis, as the wealthy continue to disengage from society.

The efforts of today's commentators to blame the poor for a failure of the system are beginning to look ridiculous. As the Victorian middle-classes got sucked into the quicksand of rising inequality, the economic ideology of the day lost legitimacy; against the spectre of socialism it took men such as L T Hobhouse to essay the blueprint for social democracy to save capitalism from itself.

Today, as the same speculators that piled up mountains of private-sector debt gamble on the capacity of the governments that bailed them out to service that debt, laissez-faire capitalism is again in danger of cannibalising itself. Unless the ideology that underpins such Wild West economics is challenged, capital will continue to pick off the weakest economies until it triggers a general collapse. The real threat to the system comes from the right, not the left; far from being a drain on the economy, the welfare state has been a prop that is now being undermined.

Ed Miliband needs to lash himself firmly to the mast of Big Government as the ultimate guarantor of security and freedom. The electorate deserve that choice.

Charles Hopkins, Norwich

We profit from Ireland's woes

Some writers in the media speak of "giving" Ireland a £7bn loan and talk of "giving" more loans to other euro countries. We are not "giving": we are setting up an income stream back into Britain for decades. A "loan" to a "debtor" is an asset to the bank that sets it up.

So our economies are sustained by world financial markets and no less mass-exploited by the self-same markets. When we say the problem is the "national debt" that misses the point: it's not the debt, it is the system, international banking abstracting vast wealth from international capital markets.

Indebted, we sell all our tomorrows for today. We sell the work of whole generations to come to feed out-of-control financial markets. We are mutually robbing one another. Ireland's indebtedness is for generations, as is ours and through the world. Welcome to looming third world impoverishment.

Jeff Williams, Poole, Dorset

Given that, "We're all in this together", is it safe to assume that every investment banker will forego his or her bonus this year, not just simply those who made the mistake of investing in Irish banks?

Manda Scott, Clungunford, Shropshire

Young tore off the Tory mask

The crass comments by Lord Young about a "so-called recession" and people "never having it so good" was not a gaffe. It was the true face of the Tory Party and how they really think. The Tories are a party of cold-hearted 19th-century robber barons. They care about nobody but their own class and regard those in poverty as being there through their own laziness.

Lord Young was right in one sense; the capitalist class of bosses and bankers have never had it so good. Big profits and bonuses paid for by ripping off the consumer and bilking the taxpayer.

David Cameron has tried to change the image of the Tory Party, but Lord Young has well and truly torn his mask off. This was the real reason he resigned.

Alan Hinnrichs, Dundee

You report on the Citizens Advice Bureau and the unprecedented increase in demands on its resources (20 November). Perhaps, now that Lord Young has time on his hands, he would like to take up a new unpaid adviser's role with the CAB in his area. This would give him the chance to see first-hand what "real life" is like for most people.

G & G Manning, Frinton on Sea, Essex

Lord Young is absolutely right when he says some of us "have never had it so good", namely bankers, hedge-fund managers and the dodgers in the Canary Wharf casinos. The Conservatives are taking us back a century or more to the era when the amateurs from the nobility ran everything and had all the money.

John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire

Sport's no gain; it's just a pain

Thank you Harriet Walker for telling it like it is about school sports (Comment, 22 November). What an utter waste of time and money it is; I hated every minute of it.

"It's character-building" they cry. No it isn't. It's a means whereby those blessed with an over-abundance of competitiveness and muscles can compensate for their embarrassment in classroom topics by chasing a bag of wind around a lump of grass.

"It builds self-respect" they claim, as if following the example of those team-players with self-respect by the metric tonne – the bankers – was some kind of ideal aspiration. They would have benefited from less sport and more home economics.

School sports builds self-loathing and fosters depression more than any other subject, and any move to clip its wings has my support.

Paul Harper, London E15

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, defends the PE funding cull (report, 22 November). We would be much more impressed had he suggested that Eton cut back its sports facilities, since he appears to think that the playing fields add little of educational value to the pupils.

David McKaigue, Thornton Hough, Merseyside

Cuts threaten our language skills

Short-sighted government cuts in education spending will impact on students in more ways than a simple rise in tuition fees (Letters, 17 November). The British Council Language Assistants scheme, which offers foreign-language students at UK universities the opportunity to spend an academic year abroad teaching English, is also likely to be a victim of the savage cuts.

This scheme has been running, in conjunction with partner organisations in Europe and beyond, for 105 years and has been invaluable in giving young people the opportunity to live and work abroad and improve both language skills and understanding of other cultures. The possibility of the scheme ceasing after such a long period of cultural exchange shows an incredible short-sightedness.

As a language student teaching in Germany on the programme, I can testify to the linguistic and intercultural benefits the scheme provides; cancelling funding for it would be yet another blow to the already dire state of language learning in this country.

Such a move also sends out a very bad message to our European counterparts: that engaging with other languages and cultures is not a priority for the UK education system, and only reinforces the stereotype that we in England don't care because "everyone speaks English anyway".

Richard Crampton, Aachen, Germany

The costs of depression

We welcome your article, "Suicides and depression in the UK" (18 November), and we much agree with Jo Swinson's comments that the failure to tackle the impact of depression is hitting us in the pocket, and not just our health.

Depression is a cruel, long-term disabling condition and if not treated effectively, the long-lasting impact can make it very difficult for people to lead fulfilling lives, including getting or maintaining work. The condition often goes unnoticed and yet affects one in five and is often a complicating factor of other chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

It has a devastating effect on people's lives, leading to isolation and loneliness and, often, these two factors lead to the despair which results in people taking their own life. We find it extraordinary that the World Health Organisation recognises depression as one of the leading causes of disability and yet until now there has been so little done to address it, leaving millions of people out of work and on benefits.

Last month, Depression Alliance and Radar (Royal Association for Disability And Rehabilitation) produced a report looking at depression and disability and how these are a barrier to employment. Seventy-nine per cent of people living with depression said that they consider it a disability, but 77 per cent said that they did not receive any support with employment.

We want the government to make depression a public health priority, working with the NHS, social services, employers and the voluntary sector, if it is to bring down the rate of suicide and improve the outcome for people with depression. We urge commissioners to do the right thing.

Emer O'Neill, Chief Executive, Depression Alliance, London SE1

Wealth does not bring happiness

It was refreshing to read Mary Dejevsky's article reminding us that wealth is a very limited measure of a nation's success (Comment, 19 November). David Cameron's recognition that happiness consists of more than wealth is a weak reflection of Robert Kennedy's address to the University of Kansas in 1968. Kennedy pointed out that GNP included the destruction of the redwood forests and the building of missiles and other weapons of war but did not include our health or joy or safety.

In general, the exploitation of our world's resources to the point of extinction remain "externalities" in the world of economists. GDP does not include unpaid domestic and primarily women's work. It does not include the cost of environmental and social catastrophes. It takes no account of underlying gross inequalities.

The King of Bhutan has suggested we should "measure what we value". The United Nations Human Development Index combines per capita GDP with other factors such as life expectancy and adult literacy. The Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, from the University of Maryland, tries to correct GDP over a range of issues such as income inequality and environmental damage.

David Cameron's "happiness" is a suitably amorphous concept for a politician to use. Mary Dejevsky makes a more practical suggestion that we measure indicators such as quality of housing, leisure time, socialising and access to decent-quality shopping. If this were combined with the true costs of environmental impact, we would be moving towards a meaningful measure of wealth in the "developed" world.

If we were even more imaginative and included such issues as access to clean water, adequate food and health care, we might start to work together to achieve worthwhile progress.

Sandra Walmsley, Weeting, Norfolk

Rare dormouse

Mike Unwin ("Wildlife Holidays", Traveller, 20 November) is right to say that "watching wildlife need not mean flying to the other hemisphere". I recommend any trips run by the People's Trust for Endangered Species to see the common or hazel dormouse, one of our most attractive native mammals now, sadly, at risk due to habitat changes.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby, South Humberside

Billy not tat at all

I usually enjoy reading John Walsh but I was saddened to learn that he regards the push-along toy dog as "The tat of yore" ( 19 November). Our faithful retainer, Billy, who now enjoys retirement in the spare room, brought much pleasure to our two children. He also held the responsible position of steadying them as they learned to walk. He would be devastated to end up in a car-boot sale in Croydon.

Wendy Mullins, Cambridge

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