Monday, 17 January 2011

comments on Hugh's campaign on discards

There have been a number of comments on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaign to end discards. This is the wasteful practice of throwing back into the sea dead fish that fishermen cannot land because they have exceeded their quota for that species. Most people are outraged by discards and support Hugh in his campaign. Some like me can see the problem with his argument. He is treating the fishermen as if they are innocent of any wrongdoing, and that the problem is with politicians, bureacrats and scientists. See my previous post on this.

I have decided to cut-and-paste these comments here. This is such an important issue I fell that I am justified in doing this.

Leon said on 12 January 2011 at 20:03
The issue is not as simple as Hugh depicts it. For the last four years I've been studying the history of fishery regulations and how fishermen have responded to them. First of all, one has to accept that a complete lack of regulation has, in many cases, led to excessive overfishing with subsequently collapsing stocks. Fishermen are primarily interested in earning money, not in conserving nature. After all, they have to earn a living on fishing. So what would be the best way to regulate fishing such that stocks are conserved? During the last century, several measures have been tried out, and fishermen have always found a loophole. Consider a few of them: - A fishing season: Fishermen react by buying ever bigger trawlers and working day and night to be able to catch as much fish as possible during the season. Thus, overfishing persists, but efficiency declines, because the overcapitalized fishing fleet is useless for the rest of the year once the 'race for fish' is over. - Setting a total allowable catch: Just the same happens as in the case of a fishing season (stocks are preserved, though). - Setting an individual allowable catch: Some comments here propose that fishermen should be allowed to sell all fish that they catch, up to a certain total amount. What happens? They concentrate on more valuable species and throw the rest of the catch back into the sea! - Limiting the number of trawlers: Again fishermen react by upsizing the vessels. Overfishing persists. As you can see, it's not that easy to regulate fisheries without creating harmful incentives. Sure, throwing half of the catch back into the sea represents a disgraceful waste of food. But it is neither the sole fault of EU bureaucrats, nor of marine scientists. Any ideas for an optimal fishery policy will be highly appreciated (but be aware: the simple ones have all failed!).

ROB said on 12 January 2011 at 17:44
Lots of knee-jerk reaction here to the sights of seeing loads of dead fish being dumped but there's no escaping the truth of the matter which is that it's the fishing industry, not the EU that's to blame. The guy who said this before (Neil?) was spot on. Also plenty of you thinking that they could restrict the dayas/hours that the boats spend at sea (it's a nice cosy solution isn't it?) but in reality how could they ever monitor such a policy? Those boats would be out there all hours all days regardless. You need a new Navy in place to try and track them all which would cost $millions which they're not going to spend on this problem. The industry has to change it's fishing methods period. Trawling massive nets is no good and has to stop. They need to rethink, adapt, and be willing to change fishing methods. In truth I think these dinosaurs will be unable to change and thus they may as well pack up now. They ruined the fish stocks, they deserve to go out of business.

Stephen said on 12 January 2011 at 14:20
I was dumbfounded and sickened watching this programme. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall presented the fishermen as victims of the quota system. Whilst I certainly agree that new ways of conserving stocks need to be found, it is the fishermen who are emptying the seas not the EU. The poor fishermen, having to kill all those fish. Sadly, the fish have no choice about being caught. As NEIL said, quota's were introduced to try and prevent overfishing of stocks by the fishing industry. It's their living, the more they catch the more money they can make. They are not going to show restraint. This was confirmed when they were doubting the scientists data about cod being endangered. What possible reason have the scientists got to fabricate it? No mention of the collapse of the Newfoundland cod industry then. The basic position is that we cannot sustain this level of industrial scale fishing. They can complain all they want, but once there are no fish left then there will be no fishermen at all. I cannot understand how they can be so short-sighted. The giving away of dead fish was just TV exhibitionism. Why are they even going out fishing when they know they are up to quota on some fish. It was sickening to see such murder and greed. If they are up to quota on any fish then they should not be allowed out. Whilst appreciating that better methods of making fishing sustainable need to be sought, I found this programme to be far to biased towards the fishermen. I hope many other people saw through it too.

Neil said on 12 January 2011 at 11:17
I was greatly disappointed by this 1st episode in that Hugh presented such an UNBALANCED one-sided view. Ok so he wants to get a point across but frankly it felt totally insulting that you failed at every turn to present both sides of this situation. Key example, Hugh was talking to a fisherman who said if they were allowed to land what they catch then they wouldn't need to spend as many days at sea and could have more holiday and time with the family. What utter nonsense ! If we allowed those guys to land everything, any day, they would be out there EVERY DAY without fail raking the fish in for more and more money. This is precisely why the quota laws came in, to put a halt to the unending greed of the fishing industry. Now don't get me wrong, the quota solution is pretty useless and obscenely wasteful and in itself is damaing fish stocks but it's irresponsible to fly your beliefs and arguments without showing the full picture. The fisherman had to be stopped somehow and indeed STILL have to be stopped otherwise they will continue to fish relentlessly. They care about their profits not the fish. So a better way has to be found to restrict them such as only allowing boats to go out at specific times and so on all of which is a mine field of potential loop holes which will be exploited. In itself, the quota simply restricts the volumes of fish you can catch. Sadly what HAS NOT happened in the wake of that is technology hasn't been introduced to better segregate teh fish that are caught. i.e. The fishermen are still casting wide nets to trawl everything. Why is it that on land an angler can set out to catch specific fish with specific tackle and specific bait but these trawling fishermen can only throw out a huge net? Why can't they line fish with specific baits? Comes back to greed, volume and profit. The enemy here is not the EU directives. It's the fishermen who created the need for some kind of restrictive policy. That hasn't changed. Just look at the guy who is still going out there to catch 1/2 dozen dover sole knowing he'll pull in a net full of cod he has to kill and dump!!!! Why is he doing that? It's awful. IT's like he's saying "I hate this stupid EU law and to spike myself I'm going out there to kill tons of cod just to catch a few sole". pretty stupid. Let's have some proper journalism Hugh that presents properly the problems created byu the fisherman. The "Stop The Quota" campaign makes exciting telly perhaps but it's far too unbalanced and is frankly insulting.

Anna McGregor said on 12 January 2011 at 09:58
This programme was presented in an entirely one-sided way. Fishing policy is a complex issue, designed to protect all parties with interests in the industry, including fisherman, us as consumers and the fish themselves. The reason that quotas are in place is that the fisherman in the past have not regulated themselves in the amount of fish they land, requiring that legislation exists to limit their catches. This system is in the interest of the fishermen, because when stocks become too low and the fishery must be completely closed (as happened in the Canadian Grand Banks) or is entirely gone, no one wins. The fish are dead, fisherman can't make any money, we don't have any to eat. In fact, these quotas have succeeded, because the stocks are starting to recover and fisherman are able to catch more fish. I agree that throwing away tons of fish is an enormous waste. However, no other solutions were presented in this programme. The addition of protected areas where no fishing occurs has been very successful in other parts of the world, for example. Removing the quota system is not the answer. The point behind the quotas is that fisherman stop fishing once they have reached their quota. Maybe quota limits need to be adjusted in the legislation, but that was never mentioned in this program. I would like to commend Hugh et al for making the point that we should not rely so heavily on one or two species of fish (i.e. cod and haddock). It is important for those that feel strongly about this to preferentially buy other species, such as mackerel (which incidentally are better for you anyway...more oils, less mercury, etc.), which will remove some of the fishing pressure from the other more popular whitefish. It's great that this issue is being brought up, but I am disappointed that the story was not presented in a more complete way. I am looking forward to the other episodes in the series, and I hope a much more accurate picture is portrayed.

Kevin Walker-Curran said on 12 January 2011 at 10:08
Discard is a tragic result of a well intentioned policy to protect declining stock. We should not forget that it was overfishing that led to the need for a quota system in the first place. To open up this system to unlimited restrictions over species caught, whilst seemingly solving the discard problem may in fact make no difference to discard. If allowed to take home a given tonnage of any fish, some fishermen would likely focus on the more profitable take and continue to discard less profitable species. Given the more profitable take may be the less common species, the new approach may actually further endanger these fish, whilst having little impact on discard either. I agree that a new approach is needed, however it needs to be done in a rational and scientific manner that takes account of all the issues. Perhaps the biggest factor in this is the consumer. A change in our eating habits would be a start and could have a significant impact. As Hugh addressed, perhaps that starts with a lobbying of Fish and Chip shops or the National Fedaration of Fish Friers.

Taco said on 12 January 2011 at 10:09
I saw the show last night and was appalled. Not by the dead fish being thrown back into the sea, but by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's irritating demagogy. If there is no quota or catch share, fishermen will clean out the seas. The fact that they accidentally catch loads of fish they are not supposed to, is not the quota's fault (or, the EU for that matter, being Hugh's favourite scapegoat) - it is the way they fish. And that yesterday's program failed to point that out makes me wonder why Hugh is so enraged by a waste of 'perfectly fine' dead fish; the fact these beautiful animals are dead, or, perhaps more likely, that he can't fill his belly with them. If the story of fish is so horrifying, don't 'eat more different kinds of fish' as Hugh ridiculously suggests - just don't eat fish at all. I doubt whether these cod care much if they are killed by a quota, or by Hugh's bloody rubber gloves.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

has Hugh been conned by fishermen?

I watched the first episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new series on Channel 4 Hugh's Big Fish Fight. He was talking mostly about the wasteful practice of throwing back into the sea dead fish that fishermen are not allowed to land (discards). We can all agree that something should be done about it, but Hugh's belief that the fishermen are the heroes and the Brussels bureaucrats and scientists are the problem does not stand up to scrutiny.

Let me suggest a sequence of events:-
  1. fishermen get a quota for cod

  2. they catch as much cod as they can, up to their quota

  3. they spend the rest of the year going after other species of fish but with a considerable bycatch of cod, maybe 50%, maybe more

  4. they cannot land the cod because they are over their quota

  5. they throw vast quantities of dead cod into the sea
Is this a realistic scenario? Is this really what the problem is all about?

The fishermen that Hugh spoke to seemed to think that there were plenty of cod in the sea and that quotas should go. He spoke to a scientist who explained that cod were only just beginning to recover in numbers and it would be foolish to catch more of them now. The fishermen didn't want to believe the scientists though. I'm sure that the former fishermen of Newfoundland thought the same way before they destroyed their own fish stocks.

One of the fishermen that Hugh spoke to said that he threw away a netfull of cod for the half dozen dover sole he could sell. They should not be allowed to do this. Maintaining fish stocks are so important that we cannot continue to allow their future to be in the hands of uneducated men who are only interested in money.

There are a number of things we can do. First, stop all subsidy of the fishing industry. Most people don't realize that fishermen are subsidized by the taxpayer. Just like farmers. As far as I can tell, the recent cutbacks are not going to touch them.

Alternatively, as with the farmers, continue with some subsidy but make sure they have to do what we want them to do in return for payment. They're not going to like that, any more than farmers did. Farmers complained about farming being 'nationalized'.

We could ban all new investment in fishing. Especially of the big million pound boats. We shouldn't allow any new boats.

There should be sanctions against fishermen who land vast quantitities of cod all in one go. They should be forced to land smaller quantities throughout the year. That is the best way to avoid bycatch. Not ending quotas. Quotas should be more stringent to allow cod stocks to recover, then there will be many times more cod in the sea.

Another possibility is that if fishermen reach their quota in any species, they should not be allowed out to fish. This will make it difficult for them to earn money, but any effective quota system is going to do that anyway. In some cases they could be financially compensated for this.