Monday, 23 June 2008

Plenty of fish in the sea?

This is an article from the Socialist from the beginning of 2007, but I think its very interesting, and it was written by a member of the Bangor branch too (and not me!), its certainly the only article on the topic I have seen in a left publication anyway.

BIRDS EYE is closing its Hull frozen fish foods factory blaming "excess capacity in its supply chain, especially fish." It is yet another warning sign that the capitalist fishing industry cannot meet the needs of either workers or society as a whole. We now take a look at the environmental impact of fishing today.

Gone are the days when fishing was done using hook and line or small nets and people said the oceans pos­sessed an endless supply of fish. Mechanical and technological advances, including large trawl nets and powered winches to haul nets back to the fishing vessels, mean that the constant bombardment of the oceans for more and more pro­ductivity simply cannot persist.
The owners of large-scale capital­ist fisheries deny their effect but fishing is one of the most extensive human activities in the marine environment and its effects are driving the ecosystem into a slate of irreparable damage.
The increasing threat that the world fish market may collapse at any time has not spurred people into taking action to build up fish stocks and manage them correctly - it has had the opposite effect.
Money is the first and last prior­ity to businesses whose profits depend upon large amounts of fish being caught. When a potential new fishery is discovered, it is fished as fast as possible with one group of fishers in competition with another. Unsurprisingly this approach only makes matters worse, reducing any chance of a successful recovery.
Commercial fisheries aim to catch species of high market value, the fish that a particular vessel is concerned with catching are called target species. Target species are commonly associated with other organisms that are not the intend­ed catch, when the fishing gear is deployed however fishers have very little control over the fate of non-target species.
After the catch is hauled back onto the fishing vessel it is sorted. Here target species and others that may be of high value are removed, everything else – other fishes, marine reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates - is thrown back into the ocean. These are known as discards. A current estimate is that 25% of all catches are discards, equal to a massive 27 million tonnes a year!
Such a high quantity is a product of the world's commercial fleets motivated by financial gain. Large commercial fishing vessels, over 30 metres long, seldom go to sea for less than a week at a time, hence all catches must be stored on board for the period that they are fishing.
These vessels' limited storing capacity means that if all by-catches were stored, the ship would fill up with low-value species. This is taken to extremes when perfectly good tar­get fish of above minimum size are thrown back to sea and replaced by larger more profitable ones in a pro­cess called high-grading.
Currently fisheries operate to reduce the amount of fish caught using catch quotas, here a certain quantity of fish are allowed to be caught in a particular area by a spe­cific vessel. However, this process is inefficient at preventing high mortality rates especially in mixed fisheries where more than one quota exists
For example a fisher, given an annual quota of 15 tonnes of plaice and 10 tonnes of sole, may fill its plaice quota relatively quickly. But since these two species commonly live alongside one another any further catches of plaice whilst the fisher fills its sole quota must be discarded. Here plaice has been devalued from target to by-catch species.


The desire for higher profits can have disastrous repercussions for millions of people, largely in devel­oping countries and islands, who depend on fish as their only source of protein. Proper management of fish stocks can only be achieved by worldwide co-operation.
Fish do not stick to national boundaries, continually migrating to different areas. A shoal of a fish may be protected in one place but not in another. So a conflict of interests ensues, people over-fish to make a profit in developed coun­tries whereas people in developing countries people are forced into over-fishing to ensure they do not starve.
Would the people in poorer countries that are over-fishing sim­ply to feed themselves be doing so if fish were not seen as a commod­ity in the Western world to sell and make a profit? No.
If fish were caught simply to meet people's needs, using more envi­ronmental friendly techniques without the high mortality rates or severe damage to the seabed and the organisms living there, then the term 'there are plenty of fish in the sea' may not seem so ironic.

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