Out of fish in UK Jul03

Joining the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been a catastrophic experience for the UK as fish stocks have dwindled and thousands of our fishermen have lost their livelihoods either because they have scrapped their boats or sold out to the Spanish trawler fleets owned by the multi-national firms. The CFP subsidy costs EU taxpayers €1bn each year and the Spanish pick up 52 per cent of this with only 4.8 per cent going to UK fishermen. The Spanish and the Irish have exploited an EU ruling that allows new fishing vessels (up to14 tons) to be subsidised until 2005 after which the subsidy will switch to scrapping the boats.


Cod is by far the most important fish for UK consumers and the EU has cut the quota for catches by 50 per cent, forcing fishermen to tie up their boats for half of each month. Hundreds of UK whitefish vessels have applied for decommissioning posing the danger that their licenses and fish catching quotas will be bought up by the Spanish who will fish right up to our coastal waters once the stocks are replenished.


Intensive fishing of sandeel – a traditional staple food for cod – is highly controversial and damaging to the recovery of cod stocks. The Danes, the largest industrial fishers in the North Sea, take around 25 per cent of sandeel biomass. The Norwegian Pout industrial fishery also affects cod through the whitefish by-catches involved in this activity. Would banning industrial fishing of sandeel lead to over-fishing of whitefish by small operators threatening the supply of fish meal as the staple feedstuff for farmed trout and salmon?


The CFP’s fundamental flaw is that it grants ‘Total Allowable Catch’ (TAC) quotas allowing fishermen to catch a specified quantity and size of a particular species in a stated area. This system results in 2 million tons of undersize and non-specified fish caught in the nets to be dumped back into the sea. This tonnage represents 25 per cent of the total quantity of fish caught within the CFP rules and programme. Whilst this system offers a solution for sharing the right to catch fish, it does not prevent young fish being caught thereby undermining our efforts to conserve fish stocks. It is economically unsustainable as the dead fish – mostly too small – thrown back into the sea is not bio-efficient in conservation or enriching the feed of marine life. Also, there is a need to prevent the wanton destruction of dolphins and porpoises by pair trawlers, shark-finning and the killing of albatrosses by long-liners.


The EU must devise new methods to control fishing that enables the fishermen to target their catch using the appropriate mesh size for the size and type of fish minimising the catch of under-size fish and its dumping into the sea. To maximise the use of vessels, man-hours at sea and preserve the stocks, the EU must introduce a regime that uses ‘kilowatt days’ linking the vessel's size, engine capacity and the number of days it can fish a specified size of a stated species, in an authorised area.  


The EU must introduce a comprehensive fish inspectorate that uses its patrol boats manned by a team of inspectors drawn from different nationalities who can, with the use of latest radar and detection devices, monitor the movements of all fishing vessels within their range of patrol. Each fishing vessel, fitted with electronic and radio equipment for communication with EU patrol boats, must have a ‘black box’ that records the two-way conversation as well as the vessel’s navigation path to verify every fishing excursion. Each vessel’s fishing journey as well as the type, size and quantity of the catch must be notified, recorded and checked against authorisations by the EU’s Fishing Agency. Such data must be available to national parliaments and the public.


Fishing in the EU, like every other EU project including the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), must be transparent, accountable and offer value for money to EU taxpayers. Nothing less will do for young Europeans today and tomorrow!