Thursday, August 12, 2004


An on-line offering by the Guardian today – courtesy of the Press Association recounts how the Belgian beam trawler MV Esperanza has delivered Greenpeace “a huge pile of dead and dying fish and crustaceans” to demonstrate its anger at the EU's "wasteful" common fisheries policy.

This was the by-catch from a two-hour trawl on the Dogger Bank, and comprised 11,000 dead or dying marine species. It included a variety of flatfish, small cod, mackerel, sole, Norway lobster, edible crab and starfish.

The catch represented a fraction of the estimated 720,000 tons of discarded fish returned annually to the North Sea, including some 12 percent (or more) of the total cod and 40 percent of the plaice catch by weight had been discarded.

So far so good. Every fisherman and campaigner would agree that discarding is highly wasteful, and experience from the successful fisheries of Norway, Iceland and the Faroes demonstrate that banning this practice is an essential past of good fisheries management.

But Greenpeace does not make this point. It uses the information to claim that "this type of fishing practice" – and then lumps beam trawling with otter trawling, which is claims are "particularly prone to picking up unwanted species, because they are inherently indiscriminate".

That, in fact, is not true as a matter of principle. Given good design, these nets can be highly selective – the problem being that the rigidities of the CFP prevent the design and development of more selective gear, and prohibit experimentation to reduce by-catch.

Thus, although much improvement in fish stocks management could be achieved by banning discarding and by introducing different types of selective gear, optimised for each grounds, Greenpeace go for another option – what is calls "a new approach to fisheries management and the protection of the North Sea".

It wants to set up "large-scale marine reserves, essentially the ocean equivalent of national parks", thus effectively banning fishing in certain areas entirely, in order to give fish stocks would have "a chance to recover."

However, while short term closures of spawning grounds are a good idea, and closures of breeding grounds are also helpful – and welcomed by fishermen - what Greenpeace neglects to say is that there are already substantial closed areas in the North Sea – not least the extensive exclusion zones around oil and gas rigs.

These in part may account for the fact that certain species, like haddock, are at a thirty-year high, and that fishermen are taking record catches of large cod, despite scientists' claims that the stock is near exhaustion.

What is needed, therefore, is good management – of which conservation is a part – not conservation per se (i.e., the totally banning of fishing in some areas) which is Greenpeace's agenda. And it is no coincidence that "conservation" of fish stocks is to become an exclusive competence of the Commission under the EU constitution, which makes it suddenly very interested in the issue as it adds to its powers.

Not for the first time, therefore, we see an NGO acting as the vanguard for the commission, jumping on a bandwagon to pursue its agenda. Thus, while we have great concerns about fisheries management and the depredations of the CFP, what Greenpeace is offering is largely disinformation.

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