What are the key requirements of a Fishing Policy or fishery management strategy?
The strategy for managing any fishery must be SUSTAINABLE, meeting the our needs while leaving opportunity for future generations to meet their own needs. But how can this be achieved?
No more fish should be removed from the sea than the sea can regenerate over the same period; this is the only way we can avoid depletion of stocks. And the only practical method to control this is to limit the quantity of fish CAUGHT, not the quantity landed. This relates directly to the issue of discards. The level of this limit, or quota , must be set using a TRANSPARENT method based on sound SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLES. Those tasked with setting quota require a good understanding of the marine ecology, have access to the recent data of fish stocks so that rational judgements can be made on the levels of different fish species which can be taken from specific parts of the sea and, most importantly, be able to make objective decisions without political pressure – a bit like a Monetary Policy Committee but for fish. The policy must also be readily enforceable with sufficient penalties that discourage quota busting without creating layers of bureaucracy.
It is important that the risks which fishermen take in doing their job – fishing has never been safer than now but it is still one of the most hazardous of occupations. In conjunction with quotas, prices therefore need to be supported: according to economic theory this should happen through market forces. A restriction on supply should increase the price of a given quantity of product. In reality it is not as simple as this, as fish is competing with other types of foodstuffs, such as cheap factory farmed poultry. A combination of the value of perfectly good fish which are currently discarded and greater consumer awareness of other fish species may help to boost the revenue of fishermen. The rewards much be sufficient that breeching quotas are not a necessity of breaking even.
Many coastal communities still rely on their fishing fleets. In towns such as Peterhead the harbour, fish market and fish processing industries are a vital part of the local economy, supporting other related industries and the wider economy. In some cases, such as Mallaig, the decline in fishing has been replaced in part with tourism but that can be a fickle fate.
In short, the policy must be sustainable over the triple bottom line: the environment, the economy and society.
Sounds simple but in practice there are no easy solutions. the North Sea is fished by a multitude of vessels from ports around Europe, fish move, some areas may do better than others. There are no easy answers but an increased awareness of and discussion of the issues may prompt some better solutions.
AND FINALLY, if twitter can topple governments, surely it can stop us throwing out some perfectly good fish. Please tweet this and get the message out there to the UK, Denmark, Norway, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Sweden, The Faroe Islands, Iceland and Belgium – all the countries which fish the North Sea. This issue is bigger than national politics and point scoring.