Monday, 7 March 2011

My thoughts on fishing...

Our fisheries have been under threat for some time now. Here's a little history for you taken from the Marine Biological Association's website...

"In 1866 a Royal Commission on Sea Fisheries, which included Professor Thomas Huxley as one of its members recommended doing away with existing regulations relating to sea fishing as fears relating to over-exploitation of fish were thought to be unfounded. In one of his most famous comments Huxley, in his inaugural address to the International Fisheries Exhibition in London 1883 stated that "I believe that it may be affirmed with confidence that, in relation to our present modes of fishing, a number of the most important sea fisheries, such as the cod fishery, the herring fishery, and the mackerel fishery, are inexhaustible".

However, Professor Edwin Ray Lankester put forward the views of many who disagreed with Huxley's statement by arguing that man could have a significant impact on fish stocks so that "the natural balance is upset". Lankester went on to propose the formation of a society to answer such questions and Huxley became the first president of the society when it was established in 1884. The main source of funding came from the UK Government who wanted to support the association's activities towards the ends of "conducting research, collecting statistics and advising on legislation". Much support in setting up the MBA was given by the then minister for the Board of Trade (which was then responsible for fisheries) Joseph Chamberlain."

So you see the debate on overfishing has been raging since 1866 and I expect well before that time. If you look at Prof. Callum Roberts' book, it illustrates very different seas. They were, at one time, teeming, rich and I imagine, intimidating places for the proliferation of some of our larger megafauna around our shores. Today tells a different story. Many of our stocks are depleted, many of our species have no baseline to tell us what healthy stocks were. But today we do have so much more knowledge, information and data than we ever had. We are in a progressive position where we have the technological potential and, I think, enough statistical information to make informed decisions and progress into the 21st century with confidence. But something is missing we are not yet achieving sustainability.

Fisheries is such a complex issue which like any other industry supplies economy, jobs and nutrition to our society but has an impact on our environment. We are fortunate on this small island that we are not reliant on fish as a source of protein we have rich soils and pasture for agriculture both arable and dairy. But we are still an island. We have coastal roots - we are aquatic apes - in my opinion. We love seafood - it supplies us with omega oils, nutrients and minerals that keep us healthy and happy memories of coastal holidays that satisfies our souls.

I consider myself so very lucky to live by the coast - it was my dream as a kid (from roots in inland Kent) to have a cottage by the sea, with chickens, a path to the sea and a life of coastal sports and food. I'm here - surprised I got here and not sure how I made it but I have.We catch mackerel, we snorkle for spider crab, we fish for bass, we collect mussels, we net for shrimp - the whole experience makes seafood an incredible luxury - that costs nothing. We have bad seasons where the rain, wind and weather stop us from catching much but we have a veggie patch and chucks that keeps on providing for us - if we put the work in. It's not always an easy option but it feels right. All the energy and effort that goes into providing our food makes us thankful and respectful and committed to conserving land and seas. It is life. Without it we would have nothing. We want our daughter to know why land and seas our important not "stuff".
So I look back at the me of 15 years ago - eating cod fishfingers, not knowing how to gut a fish, buying seafood from the supermarket, pre marine biology studies and knowledge - not considering or knowing the journey of my fish finger to my plate. Did I care? If I had understood - yes I hope I would. I just didn't know or appreciate what got that breadcrumbed fish to my plate. It is this lack of connection to the journey of our food that has got us into this position. We have discards - we now know about this thanks to the programme. We are doing something about it.

Hugh and the crew did an amazing job to tell the story of the fisherman, the industry and the waste that happens before our fish hits our plate. It made us think, it made us ask questions and it made people demand solutions. The solutions are hard to find and hard to reach - the politics, economy and demand is such a long chain of middle men that effective communication is really difficult. Fishermen want to be understood, scientists want to be heard, politicians want an effective economy (apparently). We have to think long term - way out into the future that is hard for our short living species. We didn't realise back in the 19th Century our population would have the potential of consumption that it does today. We have to moderate.

Banning discards is a great solution. We stop wasting bycatch and chucking dead fish back. But what about the methods of fishing - we are of an age where we can put thousands of musicians onto a tiny little metal box stick little plastic pieces in our ears and listen to these musicians play at any time of the day or night. That's pretty astonishing - we have amazing potential. We can and do change the world. We need to invest in research into methods of selectivity.

Now we're looking to sea and starting to think about the journey of the fish to our plate. What about the journey of the fish to the hook/net etc? Well, fish eat and start their lives off as plankton. The sea is rich with plankton - especially in temperate zones. We have phytoplankton and zooplankton the phytoplankton using chlorophyll to capture sunlight - the zooplankton have methods of capture and chase that makes for a really diverse and crazy looking bunch of creatures. They are the primary source of food within our seas and oceans. They are liable to change from the impacts of warming seas, shifting currents and climate change. The cod larva are selective to a type of plankton that helps turn them into the beautiful golden adult fish with flesh so white and juicy. However, global surface sea temperatures are 1C warmer than 150 years ago. Life is changing.

From Richard Kirby's book Ocean Drifters he explains,

"across the whole Northern Atlantic, the abundance of the Arctic copepod Calanus hyperboreus is affected by year-to-year changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)...the NAO effects winds and storms across the North Atlantic, thereby altering air temperature, sea surface temperature, and precipitation....this effects the year-to-year abundance of C.hyperboreus...most abundant copepod in the northern North Atlantic, is a critical food source for fish, birds and whales...In the North Sea the overfishing of cod during the 1980s coincided with a sustained increase in sea temperature...This change..appears to have affected synergistically with overfishing to bring about an abrupt change in the whole ecosystem...surveys have shown that the numbers of decapod [crabs etc] and echinoderm [starfish etc] larvae have increased for the 1980s...while number of phytoplankton have declined to their lowest level since records began."

We must continue to fund, promote and encourage marine knowledge, surveys and education. I am concerned for our fish stocks, I am concerned for our seas. It appears that we fail to recognise or promote the understanding that climate change is effecting our seas (not to mention ocean acidification) and we need to do something about it. I believe we are on the road... but I still think marine ecosystem understanding is not on the public agenda enough - it's not in our schools education system and as a result we may lose our ability to connect and understand the beautiful complexity that is our oceans.

So next time you turn your lights off, recycle and do your bit - give yourself a pat on the back for doing your bit for trees, bees and our seas...

1 comment:

  1. A Well Written Article - We should try and adhere to ! AND SCHOOLS SHOULD JOIN IN ON THE FUN TOO !