Monday, 15 October 2007

Marine Reserves around UK coasts

We can all, apart from the fishing industry, see that our fisheries are in desperate trouble. Fish stocks are collapsing around us, the size of the fish being caught is dramatically less than 30, 40 or 50 years ago, we throw away vast quantities of ‘by-catch’, and yet, no-one is actually doing anything about it. The industry is in denial and the government just wrings its hands.

Each year, quotas are reduced a little, which is completely inadequate, stocks fall further, more reductions, more falling stocks, more job losses. Hopeless. And don’t forget the fishing industry that denies there's a problem is the same industry that fished out the cod on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. There are still no cod on the Grand Banks, 75 or so years later.

Edit: Wrong, well at least, the last bit. The Grand Banks cod take increased up until the mid-70s, after which it fell by 60%. The Canadians extended the fishing limit for foreign vessels from 12 t0 200 miles. Using more sophisticated techniques and equipment, the Canadian take increased once more, stabilised in the 1980s, then declined until 1992 when it reached a record low. The Canadian government banned cod fishing on the Grand Banks in 1992, throwing 30,000 out of work. Stocks have yet to recover and it's uncertain whether they ever will.

Worse than this is the issue of by-catch, where large numbers of non-target fish are simply dumped back in the sea, dead or nearly so. Prawn fishing is the worst, but all fisheries do this, and it stinks. It’s a direct and inevitable result of the quota system.

And finally, many of our sea bird colonies are unable to raise significant numbers of young, because the sand-eel population has crashed, almost certainly because of industrial fishing which simply hoovers up the whole population and makes it into animal feed or fertiliser. The sea bird chicks are simply starving to death.

Seems to me, the answer is marine reserves where fishing is completely banned. The fisheries industry don’t like that idea, of course, but it does seem much more likely to help. New Zealand is introducing marine reserves which will eventually total 20% of the coastal sea area, and already they’re seeing spectacular increases in fish numbers. Sadly, I can’t find a website to provide a link to with any figures, but this one seems a good place to start.

And that’s what I’d like to see around UK coasts – 20% reserved as no-take, no dump, no disturb zones, where the marine environment can recover to something like its natural state. Within the reserves there’d be more, bigger fish, but of course, they wouldn’t stay within those areas. As the population density rose, they’d move out into the unprotected areas, where the industry could then catch more, bigger fish than they do at present.

It wouldn’t help the by-catch issue, but I need hardly say it should help the fish stocks and the sea birds, and if the stocks recover, there won’t be any need for quotas, and the by-catch issue will disappear.

1 comment:

ArcticFox said...

It's a bigger problem than just fishing in my opinion.

The problem is that we have an ecosystem.... you were right what you were saying previously about leaving the wasps alone..... if we tamper with any aspect of the ecosystem, then who knows what the butterfly effect could be.... It could start with things much much smaller than fish.... think nematodes!!!

scary stuff......