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An exercise in insanity

Posted by Richard Monday, January 17, 2005

In mid-October last year, I wrote on this Blog of my experience of spending a night on a Fleetwood trawler out in the Irish Sea, watching the indiscriminate slaughter of immature fish, brought about by the grotesque rules of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

One thing we learned was that, while British trawlers were tightly controlled on the nets they could use – and were penalised if they used "environmentally friendly" mesh sizes – not such restrictions applied to the fleet of Belgian beam trawlers which exploited the same waters.

Chasing the lucrative sole stocks, these fast, powerful trawlers drag two 15-foot beams along the sea floor, over which their nets are constructed, ploughing up the sea bed in order to gouge out the buried fish. They are wholly indiscriminate in what they catch, it being estimated that some 15lb of fish of all species must be caught for each one pound of sole landed.

No one on the Fleetwood fishery could understand why the Belgians are given such preferential treatment, nor even why the EU commission is so keen to turn a blind eye to the destruction caused.
But if that example was bad enough, the commission is at it again with a decision that even the Europhile Guardian calls "bizarre".

Covered also by the Daily Telegraph, although rather oddly printed on the "Court and Social" page, with no on-line version, the essence of the story is that small Cornish fishing boats are being banned from their own local waters in order to conserve cod stocks, while Belgian beamers, five times their size, are being allowed to continue fishing in the same waters.

Perversely, it was the Cornish fishermen themselves who suggested to the EU a ban in their waters, but asked for it to apply only to boats over 30 feet long, these being the most damaging to the fishery. However, the EU went one stage further and banned all vessels for the first three months of the year, in order to protect spawing cod.

Then, in a mirror of the Irish Sea situation, the Belgians were allowed a "derogation", which meant that the EU commission was allowing the most damaging vessels into the area – and only those vessels - keeping out the under-30 ft boats which have a negligible effect on the cod fishery.

The Belgians argue that, as they are targeting sole and plaice, they can operate without affecting the cod but, as any experienced fisherman will know, these high-speed vessels hoover up everything in their path. Says Paul Trebilcock, chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Association, "I know from past experience that [Belgian trawlers] throw away more dead cod in a month than I would catch in a year".

British fisheries minister, Ben "Rear Admiral" Bradshaw – who, together with other fisheries ministers approved the scheme at the December fisheries council, has already apologised for the debaçle. He told the BBC:

You sometimes get details like this that slip through unnoticed… This was an industry idea which we supported and I am sorry that there has been this unforeseen consequence, but let's see if we can get it ironed out.
That is easier said than done. By the time Bradshaw goes scuttling back to Brussels to discuss the issue with his masters, and they have had time to consider the matter and bring our new regulations, the three months will be up, the ban will be over and the damage will have been done.

Today, the "Rear Admiral" is in Exeter, where he is having to explain his "slip" to very angry fishermen. He might also try and tell them – and the rest of us – why he supports a system such as the CFP which is quite obviously insane.

Update

While he was in Exeter, Bradshaw had more than just the fishermen to contend with. A pro-hunting protester managed to throw offal at him. Altogether, about 70 demonstrators assembled outside County Hall to show their opposition to the Hunting Act.They shouted slogans when Mr Bradshaw arrived and one protester threw a piece of hollowed-out fruit containing entrails at him, police said.The minister was hit in the face and received a slight cut near his right eye. (Scotsman)