More than science…

Too many fisheries decisions in the UK are being made behind the closed walls of Parliament while the science is ignored (image: Rennet Stowe via Wikimedia Commons).

SITTING in a pub in Annascaul recently recovering following the second leg of a trek around part of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, I got talking with Ray, a local tradie. He told us that his Dad and Grandfather had both been fishermen in the port town of Dingle, our following day’s destination. “I couldn’t follow them into fishing though” he said. “When Ireland joined the EU, our fishing limit came down to six nautical miles. The Spanish trawlers came in big time. The Dingle trawler fleet went down from about 150 boats to three today. The fish are gone.”

Well, not completely gone. The fish restaurants in the area still source some lovely product from the remaining operators, but it’s clearly not the big industry it once was. The UK press has reported that one of the significant drivers for pro-Brexit folks was to get back control of their fishing waters out to the original 200 nautical miles, which may or may not help fish stocks recover and give UK consumers more of their much-loved British battered fish. There’s a risk, of course. UK fishermen will now be excluded from remaining EU members’ close-in fishing grounds and presumably will want to fish their own waters harder. Fisheries scientists will provide advice, but UK politicians will make the decisions on the size and behaviour of the UK fishing fleet.

Salmon counts for the Awe River  are the lowest since records began.

A week after our Irish trek, we found ourselves meandering around the Scottish highland loch country. We watched a couple of old fellas spey casting with their long double-handed fly rods on the Ness River and walked past salmon farms on Loch Awe. Local conservationists claim that sea lice from the farmed fish have virtually stopped the annual runs of wild salmon and sea trout. The fish farmers are using lice-eating wrasse to control lice numbers in the cages, and claiming big successes, but the conservationists aren’t happy about that either as wild-caught wrasse are being used to supplement hatchery-grown fish. The BBC reports that the 2017 salmon count for the Awe River is the lowest since records began in 1965, a third of what it was at the same time last year. The total in 2016 was 807, just above the all-time low, and it’s suggested the 2017 count may not reach 400. What’s not entirely clear is whether it’s the lice that’s the primary problem, or that the farms that are impacting the ecosystem and deterring the fish, as the conservationists also suggest. Or, as with Ireland, that the wild fish have just been over-harvested throughout their EU regulated range.

No doubt there’s been lots of good fisheries science undertaken in the EU. But the Europeans have still got themselves in a God-awful mess with regards to fish stocks in many of the waters they claim to control and regulate. Because, however good the science, you’ve still got politicians in control and political decisions on critical fisheries policy.

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