The Times today has a story about the scourge of the fishing industry, "black" fish.
It retails how details emerging from the trial in Glasgow of fisherman John Duncan suggests that the extent of the "black" fish trade in the Shetlands means that there is a 50 percent of fish are illegally caught.
Duncan, described as "a burly millionaire fisherman with a passion for collecting vintage motorbikes", and his neighbour Jerry Ramsay have admitted a £3.4 million scam in which they illegally landed more than 7,600 tons of mackerel and herring over a two-year period.
The case, says The Times, has exposed Britain's black fish trade, where fishermen land more fish than allowed under EU quota restrictions, and threatens to make a mockery of the fishing industry’s claims of hardship.
The paper then goes on to quote "industry sources", saying that the black fish trade is worth up to £100 million a year in Britain, with up to £80 million of this in Scotland, home to two thirds of the fleet. Up to 50 percent of fish caught in Britain are landed illegally, according to those same industry sources.
However, it seems the "industry sources" are in fact one fisherman, saying that that up to 50 percent of all pelagic fish - mainly mackerel and herring - was landed illegally in Shetland and up to 70 per cent elsewhere in Britain.
Therein give the clue to the illiteracy of the piece as Duncan and his colleague are pelagic fishermen – the "princes" of the industry who number no more than a dozen or so wealthy men who own a handful of multi-million pound boats
Duncan himself owns the Altaire, built in Turkey and fitted out by the Norwegian Solstrand shipyard in Tomrefjord (Norway) at a cost of £14 million in October 2004. At 249ft (76 metres) long, it is the largest and fastest of its kind in Britain. The pelagic fleet is in no way representative of the larger – and relatively impoverished – demersal fleet (which has much less opportunity for landing "black" fish).
Fishing in mid- to distant-waters, pelagic boats are very hard to monitor, especially as they travel long distances in search of herring and mackerel shoals, with catches often landed in Norway, Iceland or the Faeroes where there are few controls in the import of foreign-caught fish.
The fact that Duncan and his like have got away with it for so long represents a singular failure of the enforcement effort, where the sea area of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are patrolled by just three fisheries vessels, with two more allocated to the Scottish fisheries agency.
Furthermore, many studies have demonstrated that the quota system is an extremely inadequate way of managing fisheries, not least because quota are so hard to police, with more successful systems being based on "days at sea" allocations, which are much easier to enforce.
This was the basis of the Conservative fishing policy launched last January, based on successful systems observed elsewhere in the world, where "black" fish landings are considerably less of a problem.
Furthermore, all the Atlantic fishery countries have expressed a preference to work more closely with Britain, which would allow for better co-ordination of data and monitoring of fish landings. But, as long as Britain links in with the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, this is not possible – again a point made in the Conservative fishing policy.
The Times story, therefore – which seems so gleefully to focus on errant fishermen – has missed the point. The issue is as much a failure of the fishing policy and its enforcement as it one of criminal enterprise. Had a more effective system, been in place, the likes of Duncan would never have been able to get away with what they did.