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The future of International fisheries
James G. Skinner

Is the world finally running out of fish? Are we faced with another son of Armageddon like the depleted rainforests or the ozone layers of the poles? Are we looking yet again at man's greed as manifested in his pursuit of happiness nicknamed globalisation? Or do we now see the anti-apocalyptic wise men of old come to the brim of salvation, using the dreaded objectives such as controls and regulations, to smother the evil perpetrators of over exploitation of our universal seas? As I turned these questions over in my mind, I suddenly discovered, tucked away in a soon-to-be-demolished under conserved building on the Falmouth seafront, the one organisation that might throw some light on the subject. I had found my source of information.

Dave Monday is a senior fisheries inspector for MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) and has been involved for many years in monitoring and controlling the many aspects of the fishing industry. I began.

What is your particular role in MAFF, here in the Cornwall area?

“My main concern is making sure of the enforcement of the European and National regulations. Among other things, my office will collect data on fish landed, biological sampling, liaison between fishermen and all sorts of other related tasks.”

I went to the heart of the matter referring to the recent reports from the OECD as a guide. What would be your initial reaction to the control of these resources, especially this part of the world?

“With regards to the fishing industry’s problems it is unfortunate that the demand exceeds the stocks available so there has to be some method of control in order to maintain a sustainable fish stock. These stocks are in a state of near collapse, are very susceptible and some are in danger of extinction. Therefore there are various mechanisms in place on how these fisheries should be exploited.”

My next enquiry was related to regulations of the quota system, days at sea and other related controls. Do you feel the EU is playing a responsible role or should they be more aggressive?

“They are certainly active and I believe that they will eventually get there. At the moment it is too great a task and they are looking towards regional management as an outlet to ease the burden. This will, most probably, be the answer. The present quota system is very unequal and unfair. Originally, data was based on voluntary information supplied by the fishermen. This was not very satisfactory. It is very unfair towards the British, especially from the Spanish who have taken advantage of the scheme. Some of our fishermen, for various reasons, were reluctant to volunteer this information. On the other hand the French, to give an example, were extremely liberal with their information on what they caught. The result was that they were allocated vast quotas and we were allocated substantially less.”

I picked up from his answer the disparities between some of the fishing countries. What you are saying is that they should be trying to separate the major ‘rogue’ states from the rest.

“The problem in trying to sort this out is that the EU is a very cumbersome organisation. In some of the other countries like Greece and Italy they have no part to play in fishing. Consequently they do not have a great deal to do with fishing quotas. They use this to barter and obtain deals to improve their olive growing situation. This would only tend to cause a further distortion of the fishing quota system.”

Do you think that there should be more international policing of the international fishing grounds?

“Undoubtedly there should be far more co-operation although there already is a certain amount. For example, between our authorities and the Irish authorities. Some tend to be more rigorous, such as the Dutch and the Germans, and others are not so. There is a European Fisheries Inspectorate that checks out all our offshore activities hence they inspect us. But they do have a lot of problems with other countries.”

Do you not see a certain amount of conflict arising because of all these discrepancies?

“Well, there have been minor conflicts over the recent years, but they have died down a lot, although they flare up now and then.”

How do you see the future of the industry? Take management for example, as suggested by the OECD. Does their report offer certain possibilities?

“Yes, undoubtedly. You could take the example of the New Zealand role where they have ended up with three or four fishing companies that control the whole lot. I prefer the more traditional way of lots of owners and skippers and therefore more business operators within the fishing industry. Obviously the good fisherman has to be flexible but he can still make a good living”.

Would you like to give your views on the Cornish situation?

“Well we have some of the richest grounds off the Cornish coast. You do have the odd bad year where everyone throw their hands up and complain. Its variable. One thing is certain, the large profits of old are no longer there. It used to be a very popular industry but now… Fishermen can still make a good living out of it.”

What do you think about fish farming? Do you think fish farms would help the industry in the long term, or are they also being saturated ?

“Salmon is certainly saturated but the Norwegians for example have been involved in fish farming for over twenty five years. It certainly is a good measure that is constantly being developed and will guarantee supplies of certain species such as bass, turbot, brill and cod. The more gourmet species included in shellfish are under pressure but are presently self-sustaining.”

We began to cover some of the other areas of the industry. Are the other more delicate species such as lobster, shrimp etc. also being fished out, or are they more stable?

“Catches vary. Although under a lot of pressure it is self sustaining. Farms such as the lobster farm at Padstow are helping to maintain the demand. Crab is well controlled and only good specimens are caught. The softback crab is thrown back into the sea to allow its development.”

Do you think that as we become more afluent we are adding to the burden of over fishing?

“Fish is certainly becoming a luxury food, although amounts vary from country to country. France and Spain for example, have a higher percentage per capita consumption than we do here in Britain. The result may be that people will begin to eat fish that they have never eaten before. Unpopular cheap species of the past such as monkfish, are now turning into very common gourmet dishes. It is obvious that the actual price of different types of fish will begin to vary thus the present diets will change.”

What about the overall ecological effects of over fishing? We are changing the patterns of breeding and life sustaining species based on whether we catch more or catch less. Do you also keep an eye on this ?

“There is a great deal of research going on. One of the main factors is the rise in water temperature due to global warming which greatly affects the movement of fish. This is probably the most important. It is definitely taking its toll on changes in patterns of fish habitat. The Newfoundland Cod disaster which was blamed on over fishing was actually due to these climatic changes. The change in direction of the Gulf Stream may be the deciding factor.”

My own conclusion after interviewing David is that, overall, the fishing industry will not die, but as more investigation and serious international controls are introduced, the better it will be for everyone all-round.

© James Skinner 2001

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