Bring back glory of the oceans - Ocean2012's European Fish Week

By Martin Leggett - 06 Jun 2011 13:19:0 GMT
Bring back glory of the oceans - Ocean2012's European Fish Week

Ocean2012, the marine conservation group, launches its 2nd annual European Fish Week, hoping to influence decision-makers looking to the future of EU fishing policy.

The seas once heaved with fish, home to dense weave of natural splendor; the coasts were alive with vibrant fishing communities, whose boats busied over their simple harvest of the oceans. But that fishermen's tale of the past is one that should be part of a bright future, claim Ocean2012, a marine conservation group dedicated to fixing our broken relationship with the oceans.

As the European Union moves towards a major reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) - the first draft of which will be published in mid-July - Ocean2012 is this week marking its second annual European Fish Week, running from the 4th to the 12th of June. The theme of this years series of events is a delving back into the past to define the future - to a time when fish stocks were in rude health, and fishing was woven into the cultural fabric of European nations.

'During European Fish Week, we will be collecting stories and evidence of the past richness of our seas and fishing communities and telling fisheries minister that we want it back,' said Uta Bellion, Pew Environment Group's European Marine Programme director. Ocean2012 hopes that rediscovering our rich marine heritage - which flourished in tandem with marine life less than a 100 years ago - will provide a font of inspiration for the future of sustainable fisheries. That is a future for which a reformed EU CFP is essential.

The contrast between our vibrant past, and today's feeble marine resources - which our industrial fishery system is driving to extinction - couldn't be starker. According to the Census of Marine Life's History of Marine Animal Populations, a project run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, North Sea cod have shriveled in the face of sustained overfishing. Cod caught there have plunged from an average 3 to 4 foot length, in 1900, to just 20 inches today. Blue-fin tuna fishing has collapsed in northern Europe, from 5,500 tonnes to zero, as the tuna stock was decimated - as have many other fisheries.

The reasons for the overfishing lie in a system of perverse subsidies under the CFP, which have  encouraged fishing trawlers to morph into supremely efficient fish-hoovering machines - ones that have sucked much of the life out of the oceans. Where once the whole herring fishing fleet of 17th century Holland employed up to 800 boats, and 12,000 men, the same tonnage of fish can be caught by just one of today's modern trawlers.

But if the EU policy-makers are prepared to listen, and act with imagination, that sorry story could have a happy ending, believes Uta Bellion 'The story of fishing in Europe to date is a tragic tale of overexploitation of the seas that has reduced their abundance and productivity and weakened the fishing communities dependent on them. The current reform of the Common Fisheries Policy could reverse this trend and ensure a sustainable future for fishing communities across Europe.'

Image Credit: © Thomas Leiss