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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 16:15 GMT
Quota calls fail to catch the drift
Callum Roberts
Callum Roberts

The dire state of many fish stocks means calls to increase catch quotas are misguided, argues Callum Roberts. Restraint now, he says, could yield major benefits later.

Cutting up tuna. Image: BBC
A quarter of the world's fish stocks have been exhausted
Britain's Fisheries Minister, Jonathan Shaw, goes to Brussels this week for the annual round of haggling over fish quotas.

His stated goal is to allow more cod to be landed from the North Sea.

In the minister's view, there are too many cod today following a modest increase in numbers this year, which is why boats are catching more than their quotas.

Only 20,000 tonnes could be taken legally this year from the North Sea by all comers, and about half this amount by British boats.

The rest that are caught have to be thrown over the side - dead.

By any standards, chucking away good fish after spending time and fuel catching them seems like madness.

It is. But the minister would be deeply unwise to deal with the problem of throwing away fish simply by raising quotas.

Looking forward today, instead of a prosperous future for the industry, we can see the end of fishing
Fisheries in Europe are in serious trouble. Catching more fish at a time when stocks of many species, including cod, are at or near all time lows will only aggravate problems.

A little history paints a very different picture of cod's recent "recovery".

Vast riches

I have pieced together the effects on marine life of 1,000 years of fishing in a recent book, The Unnatural History of the Sea.

England's cod fisheries can be traced back to the 11th Century. At this time, falling stocks of freshwater fish and rising demand persuaded people it was worth fishing at sea.

They have never looked back.

For the following eight centuries, the fishing industry boomed, and cod and herring were the mainstay of British fisheries, dwarfing catches of all other species.

At the turn of the 20th Century, UK boats caught six to eight times more cod from the North Sea than today using much more primitive technology. Cod stocks then were at least ten times greater than today.

Book cover
Cod of vast size were caught in the North Sea in previous centuries
Rewind another 50 years to the middle 19th century, and stocks were at least twice as great again as in 1900.

It gets harder to estimate population sizes before this time, but anecdotes suggest even higher abundance.

In the early 19th Century, for example, three fishers working with handlines on the Dogger Bank in the middle of the North Sea were said to have caught 1,600 cod in a day.

If they worked a 16-hour day, not unusual at the time, each man would have landed around one cod every five minutes for the entire day.

And the cod were much larger then. Metre-long specimens filled the floors of fish markets in the 19th Century and were sold individually.

Today, most cod landed are only around 45-to-55cm long (six to nine times less heavy than a metre-long fish).

Taken together, these figures suggest that cod was once 30 to 50 times more abundant in the North Sea than it is today.

This is a better lens through which to view recent cod "recovery".

More mouths

Last year's increase in cod stock represents less than 1% of the historical population size.

Estimates of North Sea stocks today are only a quarter to a third of the EU's rebuilding target of 150,000 tonnes. But this target looks decidedly unambitious in view of the fact that it is probably less than 10% of the historical population size.

Graph of fish decline.

With an increasing world population to feed, we cannot return the seas to the healthy state they were in before fishing.

But raising population levels from today's lows should boost production of seafood.

Fisheries science predicts that we can maximise the productivity of fisheries by maintaining populations around half their unexploited size, which for cod would be a level 15 to 25 times higher than the present population.

Industrialising fisheries of the 20th Century sustained catches only by inventing ever better ways of catching fish and spreading across the globe in search of less intensively exploited stocks.

But we are near the end of that road. Looking forward today, instead of a prosperous future for the industry, we can see the end of fishing.

Safety catches

European fisheries are in a worse state than many, despite having one of the most sophisticated management systems anywhere in the world.

Every year, hundreds of scientists from across the EU pool their data to recommend safe catch levels. Those data are considered at the December meeting of fisheries ministers.

Ministers' disregard for advice puts them in the role of doctors assisting the suicide of a patient; because with this decision-making record, stock collapse becomes a certainty
Over the last 20 years ministers have - year-on-year - exceeded safe catch recommendations by an average of 15-30%, depending on the species.

Ministers claim their decisions generally exceed scientific recommendations because they must take into account the best interests of the fishing industry.

In reality, disregarding science (paid for by taxpayers, it should be added) condemns the industry to slow death.

You can't cut more grass than a lawn grows no matter how many times you mow it.

But under the Common Fisheries Policy, ministers have tried to cheat nature by taking more fish than are produced each year, leading to plummeting populations in the wild.

Their habitual disregard for advice puts them more in the role of doctors assisting the suicide of a patient; because with this decision-making record, stock collapse becomes a certainty.

The only question is: how long will it take?

Restoring sanity

It is possible to end the madness of discarding fish, but this must be part of a wider package of reform to fisheries management.

We must first eliminate risky decision-making by politicians.

In many countries, governments have realised that the economy is too important for decisions on interest rates to be made by ministers and have devolved this responsibility to independent central banks.

We need similar independent decision making on safe catches by a body that respects expert opinion and is free of the influence of politics and industry.

Andreas Dominguez Beiz and Juan Manuel Gomez Leis. Image: BBC

We also need to fish less.

Best estimates suggest we need to cut fishing effort by half to rebuild fishery prosperity. The science is clear - by fishing less we will catch more.

And of critical importance, we need to reduce the footprint of fishing by creating marine reserves in around 30% of the area of our seas where fish and their habitats can prosper.

Those reserves will help supply surrounding fisheries with a steady stream of young fish, and will help habitats recover from centuries of damage by trawls and dredges.

Britain was once one of the world's great fishing nations.

Over time our success in hunting fish has exceeded our ability to protect supplies, and the fishing industry today is spiralling into a near terminal decline.

What Britain needs from its fisheries minister is great leadership in steering our EU partners towards a root-and-branch reform of its dysfunctional management system.

What it does not need is one committed to taking more of the few cod that are left today.

Callum Roberts is Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York, and author of The Unnatural History of the Sea

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Callum Roberts? Are fish quotas too high or too low? Should Britain and other countries be seeking higher catches? Is the fishing industry's short-term thinking going to destroy fish stocks?

I've been saying it for years, and regularly submit the same comment: Stop Fishing Now
Stretch, Norwich, UK

You can't expect fishermen to limit their catches. It's like asking a goldminer to leave some gold for somebody else to collect later. The politicians must make decisions which benefit the fishermen and population of the future. If this presents hardship for today's fishermen then deal with that some other way, not by sacrificing our future.
Steven Coulter, Sydney, Australia

Once again, greed and short-term gain wrestle the upper hand from logic and common sense. Well done, human race!
Warren Loveridge, Christchurch, New Zealand

The patient is dying. How long can we keep her on life support? Is this the goal now? I have read that if an area is permanently closed to fishing, like a national ocean park, that often the stocks in surrounding areas are slowly replenished. Of course, fishing in the ocean preserve would have to be a crime, with penalties, and there would have to be monitoring like ocean forest rangers or something. And the areas off limits would have to be very large at first. Of course, that would be an attempt for reverse the trend. Of course all countries would have to sign on to the plan. On second thought, perhaps we should just continue to blindly run down the path to extinction.
Deborah Brown, Anchorage, AK

The problem will go away when there are no fish left, what's the big deal?
Ben, Sydney

surely it is time to close the north sea to all fishing, watching events unfold over the last 10 years or so reminds me of an old sci fi movie soylent green , in that tale the oceans were pronounced dead due to over fishing so humans started eating each other for protein never happen here.......
jim, hartlepool england

Unfortunately, the real solution is painful...we need to keep quotas low and shift to farm raised fish and then institute a moratorium on fishing for at least 5-10 years to allow populations to rebuild, then fishing can resume with sustainable quotas. If such a plan were adopted, then quotas could potentially be 10-20 times what they are today in 10-15 years...but it will be painful for the fisherman of today.
Larry Kealey, Sugar Land TX

If a fisherman catches 1 cod every 5 minutes that is 12 in an hour or 192 in a sixteen hour period. At that rate 3 fisherman would catch 576 fish in a day. For 3 fishermen to catch 1600 cod in a day then each would have to catch 33 fish an hour. Am I the only one with a calculator?
Mitch, Sheffield

New Zealand seem to have an effective quota system in place. Once you have filled your quota you do not go to sea.
David Doyle, Cork, Ireland

The Gulf of Maine, whose fishing resources originally drew European settlers to the North American mainland in the early 17th century, now contains less than 2%, roughly, of the food fish it had three hundred, one hundred, or even fifty years ago. Handliners dayfishing inshore from small boats (under 35') caught more fish per day of fishing in 1960 than huge corporate trawlers do now fishing anywhere in the Gulf. What is required here is local control of local resources, and government limitations on catching technology and vessel size. We have approached our once-sustainable marine ecosystem with the premise that if technology can graft more teats on the cow, she'll give more milk ad infinitum. Ain't gonna happen. Trawling for fish is like bombing for deer; it destroys the bottom ecosystem, part of the base upon which the fisheries depend.
Dr. William Burgess Leavenworth, Searsmont, ME & Durham, NH, USA

We should change the way the quota is implemented at sea. It should be illegal to dump fish over the side dead, all fish caught should be landed. Any over quota fish should be sold at market price and every penny raised handed over in tax or to fund conservation. That way crews would be desperate not to go over quota on any species as it would fill there hold for no profit and reduce the tonnage of target species they could land. Best of all it would stop the waste.
Nick, Rugby

Commercial fishing is one of the most destructive human activities. Out of sight = out of mind and as most people are blissfully ignorant of the devastation of the world's oceans, they aren't in a position to try to change it. There is a mind-boggling conflict of interests for those that run the fisheries which always causes short-term slaughter before any kind of conservation. Allowing stocks to perpetually teeter on the brink of permanent collapse is a v stupid game to play with an inevitable end result. Like attempting to balance a faberge egg on your elbow throughout your life. Although the fisheries managers seem to want to try to balance their 'egg' forever!
Nick Fuegi, Calgary, Canada

Trawling and probably most net fishing should stop now. Line catching only from now on.
simon price, Newport. S.Wales

It constantly amazes me that despite the evidence from such fishery collapses as the Grand Banks, fishermen continue to complain that they are not being allowed to fish themselves out of a job. Until they realise that with the modern technology and low fish stock levels there are simply too many fishing vessels, the commercial extinction of EU waters is a certainty, and as the Grand Banks shows, it may NEVER recover
Peter Kemp, Cheltenham

Your graph of decline goes against all basic logical analysis. If fish numbers drop, the incentive to fish goes down as well since each fishing expedition will bring less and less catch. This is an exponential decrease. Ad a result, prices of individual stock will increase relative to other food, and people will switch eating habits accordingly. I, for one, am already weary of the cost of fish, though I like it, and buy it rather rarely as a result. If the fish price was a mere 100% higher, which is conceivable if numbers drop by 25%, then I can guarantee that I would probably never buy fish. The notion that we can expend the fish supply assumes that people will continue to buy fish no matter what the cost; this is completely ridiculous.
Wojtek, Toronto, Canada

We used to go fishing on a boat in Rhyl every year. Each year we would bring home less and less fish. When I was a child we brought back 2 big bags of fish, 6 years later we were lucky to get a few dozen fish. These numbers aren't made up, they aren't arrived at by committee or by playing with statistics. Anyone with any kind of sense can tell that we are running out of fish in the sea. I'm going to take a photograph of the next fish I see - so that my grandchildren will know what they looked like.
Leon, Manchester, UK

I absolutely agree with Callum Roberts - We are speeding up the collapse of ocean ecosystems - destroying their resilience and contributing to the RISE OF SLIME!!!
Melanie Gomes, Crossgar Co Down N Ireland

Rather than aiming for sustainability - we have to aim for growth environmentalism. What i mean to that is, its not wrong to fish, but you have to allow the stocks to build up, and keep building up, and to just take a smaller percentage of the fish so that over time, we repopulate the seas as well as increasing our catches year after year. However, you have to see it from the individual fishers viewpoint - they own the equipment, and no one will currently pay them to do something else, so for their survival, and to keep up the mortgage payments on their boats/houses, they go out and do the work they feel will save their lives. Government must do more to keep excessive fishing under control, and part of that might include temporary subsidies and re-training programs. There should be an organization that takes care of fishing stocks and monitors safe levels, because it is ridiculous that we are wiping out life in the seas rather than helping it come back, and then enjoying prosperity from that.
Philipp Hromek, Canada

Simple enough - ban industrial scale net fishing. The amount of by-catch that these nets grab is far too high. And increase the mesh sizes on those nets which are used, whilst incorpoarting numerous devices to prevent by-catch of non-targetted species. I also agree that the sheer quantity of boats in the seas are too high. Finally, we need to wean ourselves off the fish diet, when there is sucha surplus of land-based food (grain, milk, meat, wine, oil) etc produced in the EU
Hemal, London, UK

Why not stop all comercial fishing in areas of low fish population, this would include most of the British waters. Given time most fish stocks will recover, only resuming when the scientists give the all clear. It seems that the comercial fishermen punch way above their weight in any pollitical debate, I wonder if this goes back to when trawlers were used to spy on the Russian fleet before the days of satelite survailance.
Doug Hughes, north wales

Fishing is the last remaining example of large-scale hunting of wild creatures. All fishermen do is take, take, take - and then complain when stocks dwindle, as if they were not to blame. Let's have a complete ban on fishing around Britain for 10 years, then 50% of sea areas kept as a permanent reserve. Above all, let's listen to - and act on - the advice of the scientists, not the politicians - future generations will then remember us for out foresight, not curse us for our stupidity!
John E, Eastleigh, UK

We, individually and together as a nation, simply have to eat less (or no) fish. It may be deeply unpopular, and equivalent to political suicide, but until governments start eschewing the virtues of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles the fish stocks and rising CO2 levels caused by raising animals for slaughter are only going to get worse.
Magnus, London

The author is correct, politicians should be removed from the decision making process and handed to an independent body. 10 years is not long to wait for recovery when compared to extinction or decades of nothing to fish. As the EU pays farmers not to produce would it not be wise to adopt this approach for fisherman to? Drop quotas by 50% across the EU and subsidise incomes would seem a logical solution.
Ian, London

The Common Fisheries Policy should be totally abandoned as an abject failure. It has wrought nothing but destruction upon the fish stocks of Europe since its inception. The various European and British ministers responsible for ignoring all scientific advice and common sense should be sacked immediately. The only way for the fish populations to increase even to a small percentage of their previous (pre-EEC/EU) levels will be through drastic reductions in fishing effort over a long period. Failure to grasp this inescapable fact will ensure not only the demise of the cod and other commercial species but also the fleets which have hounded them to the brink of extinction. The breathtaking arrogance and utter stupidity of Jonathan Shaw and his counterparts is astonishing.
Tristram Eley, Cairns, Australia

I largely agree with Prof Roberts but his analysis tends to brush over some important details. Young cod tend to aggregate in coastal waters where they get caught by the inshore fleet which is actually targetting other species, such as Nephrops. There has been a slight increase in the number of young cod this year and this is why there is currently a problem with increased discards in the inshore sector. The government position appears to be that an increase in quota will allow the inshore fleet to land some of these fish which are being killed anyway. However, it is also true that if these fish are not allowed to survive, the amount of mature cod will never increase. This problem should have been anticipated and a rational plan developed for protecting the young cod whilst they are inshore. The current government position does look like a knee-jerk reaction rather being part of a planned and logical response as called for under EU cod recovery plans.
Clive Fox Ph! D, Oban

British and Irish waters - 25 mile limit minimum except straits of Dover, should not be subject to EU control, but under British and Irish control and only British and Irish boats allowed in, no licenses or permissions to any foreign national, to be strictly enforced by Royal Navy
Clive Baker, Bedford

"Quotas are not the way forward for fisheries management, marine reserves are" - this is one of the major points I've picked up whilst studying Environmental Science at York University over the past 2.5 years. It seems ludicrous that quotas for cod have been increased! Marine habitats and species need time to recover from the damage humans have caused, and a few petty reductions in total allowable catches or fishing days isn't going to make a big difference!
Carmel Parry, York, UK

Just a quick quip from the far side of the pond. Why not offer the ministers a neat bonus if the fish stocks respond? Or a messy hanging if they don't.
Bill Canday, Detroit, MI

I like the way Alaskans manage the herring fishery, not by weight, but by time. Each boat can put out nets for 15 minutes and that's it. They cull about 10% of the herring population in those ten minutes. A limited number of boats are allowed out, in four shifts. The entire season lasts 1 hour exactly. Do the same with cod. Each boat, three days...No more fishing for cod at all. They sail in, sell their cod, and retool for mackerel...
Chuck, Albuquerque,NM,US

It seems to me that a prohibition of new fishing permits might be the way, so when a fisherman retires, no new permits would be issued until a gradual reduction of the fleet is achieved. There would be an adverse effect on the shipbuilders, food processors and other related industries but tough action is clearly needed. Until we can invent a way for fish to reproduce faster, it is essential to protect and preserve the remaining stock.
joe, bellmore, us

We need to turn fishermen into farmers. If fishermen could buy exclusive rights to fish a particular region of the sea and if they knew they could sell those rights at some future time (for a profit, presumably) or leave it to a family member they would have every motivation in the world to keep their own fishery healthy, well stocked and fruitful (fishful?). They would practice conservative fishing techniques with an emphasis on sustainability, just as farmers do. If they had paid a large sum of money last year for fishing rights are they going to race to drag the last fish out, destroying their fishery, this year? Of course not. Under the present system they have every motivation to do so, because they know if they don't take the last fish someone else will, so it might as well be them. ("Rustling" can be prevented by equipping trawlers with GPS transmitters - most have them anyway - and monitoring their positions.)
Richard Cole, NY, NY

a start could be made by imposing an automatic fixed penalty per kg of fish thrown back by a fisherman. This brings a direct cost of over-fishing to bear on the one person who is in a position to control over-fishing. As a boat approaches its quota for any species in any year, the skipper as he does now will turn to fishing for other species. But he will have an incentive to fish for them in areas where he is less likely to risk going over quota on any one species. Over time, those skippers and companies who have successful strategies for staying within their quotas would have a visible economic advantage over less efficient companies, further encouraging compliance.
Ian Kemmish, Biggleswade

The problem with quotas is that people want/need money and so will disregard them. Many recent pilot studies have indicated that by having strictly protected no fish zones acting as breeding grounds increases the take in the surrounding areas. This provides both conservation and economic benefits and is more likely to be respected by fishermen.
Corin, London UK

Do any of you remember the "Grand Banks" off Newfoundland? That was one of the richest cod fisheries in the world. Now its a wasteland where they drill for oil instead. For years scientists warned of the overfishing but politicians and noisy, greedy fishermen ignored the advice. Well, now its gone. The North Sea is next. Change now or its "over".
hvm, Kelowna, BC, Canada

One thing that is being overlooked it the fact that there are more people on Earth than the planet can support. Many countries now send thier fishing fleets half the way around the globe in search of food to feed their citizens. We are fighting a loosing battle to save the planet; the human population must be reduced.
Gary Maxwell, Lynnwood, Washington, U.S.A.

There seems to be some confusion among those posting comments about how trawling and quotas operate. Quotas are, rightly, species specific: catches over quota in the majority of cases are not made because trawler-men are attempting to catch the last of a remaining quota, but because a particular species is unintentionally targeted when its quota has already been caught. Thus, one cannot talk of allowing trawler-men to retain their 'first' excess catch, or of stopping individual fishermen 'going out' once they have reached a single individual quota.
Adam BW, London

Just look at Icelands fishing policy. Its illegal to ever throw back catch into the sea. Its seems to me to be a beautifully coherent system and something our gutless fisheries minister should read before heading off for his international jolly. Its been in operation for years and is clearly far more effective at regenerating stocks than our own EU bickering system will ever be.
Dominic Oskis, Upminster, Essex

The problem is that you have a large workforce devoted to a dwindling industry, few of whom want to move out of that industry for fear of losing their livelihoods completely - rather like the situation with heavy industry in the 1970s-80s. Now, like then, that workforce is just going to have to face the fact that the country cannot afford for them to carry on. But unlike then, this is not about the cost to the taxpayer of maintaining an obsolete sector of the economy, it is about the cost to the entire marine ecosystem and the future of the maritime economy. Sacrifice the jobs of some thousands of fishermen now - and for that the taxpayer might well have to pay, as Rich suggests - and we will save ecosystem and economy for future generations.
Alex, Durham

This tragedy of fish-stock depletion is part of a wider tragedy, that of politicians and public ignoring the advice of scientific experts, and the related tragedy of the unethical conduct of some so-called "scientists" in submitting to political pressures or crude ambition by falsifying results,thus seeming to "Allow" politicians to disregard true science. OIf course fish quotas are much too high. Enforcement needs to be more effcient and penalties very much more severe - loss of all future fishing rigyhts for a sinbgle first infraction. And why not consider a "fishing-free year" one year in seven, along biblical lines?
Anulf, London, Canada

Let Angling help restore wild fish stocks. By introducing a permit for sea anglers and using the funds to create marine parks and the laying up of commercial fishing boats until stocks recover two things will happen. Firstly alternative species will become more attractive (Tilapia or Carps or Catfishes)secondly marine stocks will then increase & more people will fish for fun & supper!
Fergus Ross, Tunbridge Wells

Foxes in charge of the henhouse...
Foster Forbes Purrington, Mattapoisett, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, USA

Anyone wondering about collapsing fish stocks and thinking it is difficult and complex simply needs to look at the Faroes Islands. By remaining out of the European Common Fisheries Policy they have been able to manage their fishing grounds and their fishermen and fish stocks are prospering. The elephant in the room is Europe. If we care about fish we will scrap the Common Fisheries Policy. (But don't count on that happening anytime soon, far too embarassing for the Eurocrats who run things)
C H Ingoldby, Leeds, UK

You have to recognise that the real decline in fish stocks has occurred since the UK allowed non-UK boats into its waters. UK fisherman managed the UK waters appropriately because it was in their interest to do so. But since the European super-trawlers came in they have destroyed the UK's fish stocks because they don't care about anything except catching as much fish as possible. Fish quotas don't work because they reward the big operators not the small careful fishermen whose birthright it is to fish UK waters. The only answer to keep all foreign boats out of UK waters and the police them aggressively like Iceland does
John, Newcastle

It's all very well following scientific advice, but what happens when the scientific advice is flawed ? The scientific techniques used to determine fish stocks are as rudimentary and outdated as doctors drilling holes in peoples skulls to try and relieve headaches. Fish have the whole of the North Sea to live in, yet scientists sample one or two areas consistently. In terms most people would understand, the science is akin to flying over Scotland with a helicopter, looking in two fields, seeing no sheep or cows and declaring them an endangered species. Scientists have been recommending quota cuts almost every year for the past 25 years or so, yet the stocks are still allegedly under threat, they must have made many, many errors in their calculations throughout the years. Fishermen report finding fish further North every year, so perhaps fish stocks aren't as under threat as the scientists say, but are simply moving into colder water away from the traditional sampling areas. I guess we will never really know how well the stocks are doing, there's a huge area and we can't readily count every last fish, so caution is essential in setting quotas, but they need to tally up with what's happening at sea, on fishing boats across the EU.
Nick, Arbroath, Scotland

The small boats that fish our inland waters are able to fish sustainably if encouraged. Those that need to be targeted are the massive factory boats that are raping our seas all over the world.
Zoe, Pembroke

Many countries have decided that the economy is too important to be run by politicians and have devolved power to independent banks. Shouldn't this be done with just about everything else that politicians are attempting to run at present?
paul, swansea, wales

Years of short termism by UK and EU politicians of all parties, responding to the equally short term demands of special interest fiseries groups with powerful lobbying capability, continue to ensure that marine fish stocks fail to recover, and are pushed closer and closer to a non-recoverable state. A further tragedy is the way in which European boats, supported in many cases by their governments, having trashed so many fish stocks close to home, are now finding ways to unsustainably strip the fisheries resources of developing nations. The result will be (in some cases probably already is) as bad as, or worse than, the results of their unsustainable fishing closer to home. And it's only recently that a well known brand still thought it a good advertising ploy to boast that 'We go further to get your fish'!
Jeremy Kemp, York, UK

The main problem is the major method of fishing is still trawling, a move to line caught fishing would allow for a higher quailiy market that could sustain fish stocks. The reason why this change hasn't been made is that trawling is the only way to supply fish for the 'Cat Food' market. Finding an alternative to fish in cat food is the key to sustaining fisheries.
Andrew, Bath

Living in a fishing community it is hard to withstand the constant call for an easing of quotas. But fishermen here now realise the advantage of ending the landing of ilegal "black" fish, which has resulted in higher prices. Rules to restore our oceans are essential, but the only method that will work is defining no catch zones and policing them. The fishermen will argue all the way, but eventually will realise the benefit.
Pete, Shetland Isles

The only way to solve this is to pay fisherman not to fish. It's not rocket science. The EU has paid farmers not to farm for years with tremendous dividends to the environment and biodiversity.
Rob Johnson, Lydney, UK

Around Shetland waters you will see French & Spanish boats, Irish and Danish as well as the traditional Shetland, Scots and Norwegen. The EEC has opened up Traditional waters to Industrial Fishing by fleets that never fished here before the Central UK Goverment sold out on the fishing industry and bartered deals on fishing against other EEC deals. Do you see our boats fishing for Tuna in French or Spanish waters? No because there are votes in it for the French and Spanish Goverments in their fishing industries. In the UK the majority of Fishing Comunities vote Lib dem or nationalist to central goverment this turns them into an irelevance.
Ray Dawson, Shetland, UK

greedy fishermen + inept fishery ministers + eu community fishing policy = no fishing stocks for the future
ray wilkinson, cowes isle of wight

After a trip to the Outer Hebrides, in some places fishing is equated with having life. Perhaps if the quotas were lower and cutting the amount of fisherman, but providing them with alternative work such as conservation, would help. Perhaps if he is not catching the fish but saving them, he can ensure his livelihood.
Jenny, Wisconsin, USA

When the last tree is felled and the last river poisoned and the last fish caught, only then will these people realise they cannot eat money. Its an old proverb but one that seems will come true. Sadly the bickering selfish and greedy politicians of all parties are simply unwilling to take the real action that is needed to reverse this problem. Sustainable fishing is possible but it needs action like banning bottom trawling and no fishing at all in spawning areas.
John, Milton Keynes

nothing will be done as, fish will go from the seas and people will wake up to late. the two worst nations are japan (tuna,whales, dolphins, ect) and spain who fish all over the world including the north sea. quotas mean nothing.
bernie james, marbella spain.

the point is that we must all meditate on vegetarianism... we are more than 6 billions people!!!
francesca, milano, italia

A very difficult situation. If you are a fisherman with a mortgage demand each month, you have to think for the now. But fisherman arent stupid people, and they realise its not working for the longer term. The facts Proffesor Callum has assembled should be essential reading for every politician involved in fisheries management. Then, maybe, one with true vision will rise to the challenge, in such a way that the commercial fleet is somehow maintained for the better times that could be ahead. Perhaps, in the interim, their knowledge and skills could be employed by tourism or leisure industries?
Robin Howard, Brighton England

People who eat fish are immoral SOBs. Change to chicken. They taste better anyway
franco, Pittsburgh, USA

What do you expect? Most politicians are incapable of seeing past the next election and fishing quotas are set by politicians, not fisheries scientists. People understand that you can't take more than the sea can produce but fishermen are trapped: they have families to support and bills to pay and will stretch the rules to the limits every time. Barring the sudden apperance of leaders willing to stand up to fishermen and manage for a genuinely sustainable catch the fishing industry worldwide is doomed.
Scott W, Port Orchard, USA

Fish quotas are too high. A drastic reduction in quotas and strict enforcement is needed now to prevent a total collapse of all fish stocks. The ocean ecosystem may already be irrevesibly changed in a negative fashion. DLB
Drury L. Bacon, III, Goodyear, Arizona, USA

I think your suggestion that scientists should select quotas is an excellent one that should be considered by the EU as an immmediate priority. The same it has to be said, goes for Tuna. I have seen old photos of these fish and they are MASSIVE - dwarfing people. Now you see Tunas that are a 3rd or less the size of a person. Sad.
David, London

All very depressing especially when you see the current Fisheries minister reversing the decision to raise the minimum landing size of Bass and keeping it at 38cm, at this size the fish are not even having a chance to breed. There is also the environmental damage being caused by fisheries especially in the form of by catch, all fish should now be labelled for its sustainability so as the consumer is fully aware what consequences their purchase may have, and made aware of the hazards fish farming is causing to the environment. I would also like to see the implementation of marine protected areas as is proposed by the Wildlife Trust. Callum Roberts book is an excellent read and account of the historical explotation of the oceans and I highly reccomend it. Put the fellow in charge of our fisheries and we will have a fishery to be proud of with rich dividends, act now and reap the rewards. Cheers Nick - Jersey
Nicolas Jouault, Jersey

There would be no need to throw back the excess if we could trust the fishermen to abide by the law. If they were nearly full and the current load took them over the limit, they could be allowed to keep the excess. Except if we let them do that, they would take as much excess as they were allowed and if there was any more than that, they'd just throw THAT excess excess away, a net improvement of nil on the situation. One thing has been shown, even in waters banned from fishing still gets fishing boats (they can be seen by the latest satellites, though not identified) and this is why recovery of fish stocks are not recovering as fast as they should. And while they can't be trusted, we have to have limits that are enforced harshly and so excess fish get thrown back.
Mark, Exeter, UK

Yes, fish quotas are too high. Short-term gains are being being got at the expense of long-term stability. We need to find fishermen new work so they don't rely on fishing exclusively and put a total ban on cod fishing in the North Sea. In ten years time the stocks will have recovered and fishing can resume. We also, as a nation of fish eaters, need to experiment with other fish species as food.
Lucas Black, Edinburgh

I believe that politicians and fisheries ministers in particular should make their decisions for the long term and less for the short term. They serve the public, not special interests which typically think short term.
alexander lai, Auburndale/fl/USA

Wouldnt a better approach be to give each Fishermen or trawlermen a yearly quota rather than an individiual on so once they have catched their quotas worth they wont be allowed out again for that year
Matthew Roberts, Surbiton United Kingdom

It is instructive to read Daniel Defoe's book "A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain", written 1724-26. There are several references in there to the fecundity of the seas in Scotland and the South-West which brought home to me how denuded the seas are now.
Hugo Wells, Milton Keynes, UK

Absolutely. The fishermen complaining about the size of the quotas are killing the very thing they rely on for a living. The key is to have fewer boats at sea rather then many boats with quotas. Fewer boats would mean full catches for those at sea and no throwing back of dead cod. Fisherman should be subsidised by the government not to go to sea for a number of years or for boats to work in rotation. That way when fish stocks do recover and people can go back to work full time the fishermen have not moved away from the area into other work and the workforce will not have collapsed and the industry will not have been destroyed. Reciprocal agreements should be set up with other nations who fish our waters to do the same thing. Thus avoiding resentment from our fishermen and diplomatic upset with fellow fishing countries. Voila! Can I have that ministerial position now please?
Rich, Edinburgh

The fish quotas are too high !!!!
Kent Andersson, Sweden

Fishermen ride sustainability wave
31 Oct 07 |  Science/Nature
Last rites for a marine marvel?
17 Oct 07 |  Science/Nature
'Only 50 years left' for sea fish
02 Nov 06 |  Science/Nature

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