By Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation
What is it with some environmental groups and their appetite to be selective with the facts and not present a true reflection of our fisheries? The Pew Foundation and New Economics Foundation (NEF) appear to be in a league of their own in this department as is so vividly reflected by their two most recent reports.
Pew in its ‘Turning the Tide’ report stated that in many cases the EU’s Atlantic nations set fishing limits ‘contrary’ to recent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and continue to ‘overfish’ for many species. Meanwhile, NEF claimed that many stocks were fished beyond scientific advice and thus endangering fish stocks.
The content of both these reports can quite simply be classed as a case of cherry-picking the facts gone wild. Where is the mention that according to EU figures 36 stocks are now fished at maximum sustainable yield levels (MSY) compared to just two in 2003? Or that North Sea cod, along with the majority of other stocks of interest to our fishermen (according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea), are either in a healthy state or increasing? Or that most stocks are subject to long term management plans so as to secure their future? Look too at all the stocks that are now independently certified as being sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Often there is a reason not to set a catch limit in line with the scientific advice – it’s called intelligent fisheries management. Take North Sea cod as an example, where green groups claim that the scientific advice for 2015 for a cut of 20% was ignored and the quota was actually increased by 5%. The actuality was that the science also stated that a 5% uplift in cod quota would still deliver a highly significant increase in the spawning stock biomass over the coming year. Given the complex mixed fisheries our boats work in, a 20% cut would not have led to any less cod being caught, but only more discarded over the side for absolutely no conservation benefit.
Knee-jerk action on quotas only destroys fragile fishing communities. Much better to have long term plans for the sustained recovery of stocks, which is already happening. According to ICES, fish mortality due to fishing has fallen by an astonishing 50% since 2000, and ICES states that natural factors through predator/prey interactions are now becoming the main source of fish mortality, rather than from fishing.
Such inconvenient truths, of course, undermine the very raison d’etre for many environmental groups and this is why they focus upon the hyperbole and doom-mongering. As such, it also means that they can never be taken seriously as commentators on our fisheries and the marine environment.