Fishing The Seas To Oblivion -
The Rape Of The Oceans
By Alex Kirby
Environment Correspondent
BBC Sci/Tech

On Tuesday the House of Commons opens its annual debate on the government's fisheries policy, before ministers of the EU member states meet in Brussels later in the week to set the coming year's catch quotas.
But the fish stock appears to be in serious trouble.
The North Sea fish catch in 1953 included an estimated 3-4,000 tuna. But it would be difficult to find a single tuna there now.
In the 1960s and 70s, the North Sea populations of herring and mackerel collapsed. The mackerel never returned. The herring did - for a time.
By 1990 there were an estimated one million tonnes of North Sea herring. But in five years that had fallen to a mere 24,000 tonnes.
Not a bad deal
The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was designed to share resources among the EU member states, with special provision for countries that had historically fished in certain areas.
The United Kingdom came out of it fairly well - the CFP is not weighted against the British. But it is fatally weighted against the fish themselves.
So the policy works against the long-term interests of the fishermen as well, because it is helping to make sure that the resource on which they depend will not last much longer.
The cod - the essential partner in that British culinary masterpiece, fish and chips - can reach two metres in length when it is fully grown. But few cod survive now beyond adolescence.
Most are caught before they are sexually mature, so the breeding stock is unable to reproduce itself.
The number of North Sea cod is barely one third of the minimum scientists believe necessary to ensure the species' commercial survival.
Technology run amok
For haddock, saithe and whiting - all members of the cod family - the picture is better, but not by very much.
What any sensible fisheries policy ought to do is find a sustainable basis for fishing - a basis that would give the fish a chance to withstand the ever-fiercer onslaught of technology.
In the days of sail the fish had a fighting chance. Now, though, they have no chance at all.
First there was steam power. Then came larger and more powerful diesel trawlers.
Nets have become harder for the fish to evade, and fishing methods now include beam trawling, a system used mainly by the Dutch, which wreaks havoc on marine life.
It involves dragging heavy trawling gear, attached to a spar or beam, over the seabed, destroying many of the species which live there.
They include shellfish, worms and starfish - not important commercially, but an essential part of the food chain for the fish we eat.
And finding the shoals is easier than ever, thanks to sonar and other electronic tools.
The CFP's answer to this doleful catalogue is to rely largely on imposing annual Total Allowable Catches (TACs).
These are then divided up into individual countries' quotas.
Part of the problem with TACs is that fish stubbornly refuse to swim in separate shoals. The species mix themselves together.
So if you are a trawler skipper trying to catch your share of cod, you may well find yourself inadvertently hauling in a netful of plaice and whiting and all sorts of other species as well.
If you have already caught your quota of these other species, you have to dump them back over the side.
Caught but not used
All immature fish, smaller than the minimum size that can legally be landed, go overboard too. It means that about 20% of the fish caught are not even brought ashore.
In 1995, that caused the dumping of 27 million tonnes by EU boats - enough fish to supply China for a year and a half.
Norway, incidentally, which decided not to become an EU member, does not operate this wasteful "by-catch" system.
The CFP also tries to limit the amount of fishing that takes place, by encouraging the decommissioning of vessels. But it is usually the older and less effective boats that are taken out of service.
More than half the fish taken from the North Sea each year (by weight) are used for making oil and fishmeal.
Until a few years ago, Denmark was even catching fish to fuel a power station.
A glimmer of hope
Fishermen are sometimes sceptical about the scientists' claims of imminent collapse. But if the estimates are even halfway right, the survival of many small coastal communities is doubtful.
Greenpeace says this is a case for invoking the precautionary principle, and an emergency recovery plan for the fish round Britain's coasts.
The World Wide Fund for Nature wants subsidies used to encourage sustainable fisheries, and says fishing must be less environmentally damaging.
And the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) says the market must bear the main responsibility for change.
The MP John Gummer, who was environment secretary in the last Conservative government, chairs the MSC.
"Member states' ministers represent their countries' fishermen, not the fish and meanwhile the seas are being raped," said Mr Gummer.
"More regulation is not the answer, because it has not worked, and it will not work. It is the market that needs reform, because it is encouraging people to overfish.
"Those who take the profit today must pay the price today otherwise we are simply borrowing from our children," said Mr Gummer.
He looks forward to the day when all fish on sale is labelled as coming from a sustainable fishery. It may not be too far away.
The multinational Unilever company has said already that, after 2005, it will accept for its Birds Eye brand only fish certified by MSC standards to be from a sustainable source.