Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Overfishing is a real and present danger

It's easy to get complacent about fish stocks. The fish are all sitting there in the supermarket, aren't they? They aren't going up in price all that rapidly (though they are going up); you can buy everything you always could; the streets are all full of fish and chip shops that still offer cod.

This type of beheaviour is almost unbelievable, given that latest academic figures on cod stocks in the North Sea. They're almost gone - and although this means that their prey species will have a better time for a while (think scampi and chips, instead of cod and chips), that won't always be the case. For the effects are unpredictable. New and worse predators can move in. Marine deserts can emerge. The food chain can break up, rather than bulge with things we like to scoop up and munch on.

The latest news from the European fisheries reform process is not encouraging. Although particularly disgusting and disgraceful practices such as throwing perfectly good fish overboard are a thing of the past (or they are supposed to be), and smaller boats might get a larger share of the catch in the future, Ministers are backsliding like they always do. They know, in their hearts, that Northern Europeans at least have learnt little from history - and the Canadian Grand Banks disaster of the early 1990s, which saw one of the richest fisheries in the world utterly obliterated. The Grand Banks have never recovered by the way. But they're weak. Give us a little bit more time, they plead. Don't make us unpopular, they whine.The advantage they have is that most Europeans no longer have living, visceral links with the sea, and they can't see the pathetic catches that are now (in some places) less than a quarter of what they were in the early 1970s.

It is even reported that the British have been involved in some particularly discreditable negotiations behind the scenes to get back control of 'their' stocks in return for watering down absolutely essential catch targets that will get us back to sustainable levels of wild fishing.

But what is the alternative? Well, it's this: the complete destruction of wild fisheries in Northern Europe first, and then across the whole of Europe after that. After which Europeans will probably move on to destroy North African and West African fisheries, but that's another story.

My advice? Write to your MP or MEP. In the meantime, don't eat any North Sea cod. Or any cod, to come to think of it.