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The trouble with fishing quotas

The BBC are repeating the fantastic Trawlermen series that follows several Scottish fishing boats in the North Sea and Atlantic. Their continuous search for fish in freezing weather whilst trying to outsmart their rival vessels highlights the skill involved in locating fish in miles of open sea. This is all made more difficult by the EU's fishing quotas.

The quota system means that each boat is only allowed to catch a certain amount of fish (especially Cod) per trip in order to preserve stocks. Once the limit has been reached, any extra fish are thrown back. By then, of course, they are dead. What you realise from the programme is that once the nets are deployed, the crew have no idea whether they'll come up full or empty or even what sort of fish will be in them. If they knew that, the job would obviously be a hell of a lot easier .

From Brussels, quotas must have seemed like the perfect solution to preserving European fish stocks, deterring fishermen from plundering stocks by limiting their catched. But, as this example shows, it doesn't actually preserve stocks at all because the fish are caught anyway, they just can't be sold. It must be devastating to have to throw back fish that you've battled to catch, not knowing if the remainding haul will cover the running costs of the boat let alone the wage of five blokes.

What is obvious though is that a policy developed with environmental protection in mind actually does nothing of the sort. Quotas do not act as a detterant because once the nets are in the water, its impossible to know what fish will be caught. It blasts as a policy that was created with very little practical thinking of how it will function in the industry itself.

There has to be a better alternative because catching fish to throw them back dead is a tragedy for both the fish and the fishermen.


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