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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 14:14 GMT
Cold water poured on fish warning
Jemima Laing
BBC News South West

Rick Smith Brixham Trawler agents
Rick Smith described the report as "scaremongering"
It may seem an unusual plea for a scientist to make.

But unless consumers change their fish eating habits, according to new research, current stocks could be wiped out by 2048.

And with this in mind, one of the authors of the report, which was published in the American journal Science, has conjured up a vision of what should be served up in the future.

Dr Nicola Beaumont, of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said: "We may have to look at eating different seafood, instead of cod and chips, perhaps jellyfish and chips."

But to many involved in the fishing industry off England's south west coast, the warnings about dramatic changes to one of the nation's favourite dishes should be taken with, well, a pinch of salt.

Rick Smith, from Brixham Trawler Agents in Devon, says the scientists have often been wrong before and described the latest report as "scaremongering".

Examples of fish caught in the SW
John Dory

"They are usually academics, they look at figures from scientists who probably haven't been to sea and are just number crunchers," he said.

"To me it's just scaremongering. I think they are very, very mistaken.

"I think the industry is very viable, we have just had two record months."

Trawler generic
At least 40 species are caught off the South West peninsula

Mr Smith, who has spent nearly 40 years in the fishing industry, says there are some 40 different varieties of fish currently being landed around the South West peninsula.

And he credits celebrity chefs with the public's growing interest in a diverse range of seafood.

"A lot of fish that were never eaten before are now very popular and commanding a high price," he said.

Steve Farrar, who runs the Blue Sail Fish company at Looe Market in Cornwall, believes the region's fishermen are sensitive to conservation because their future depends on it.

"The supply is subject to a lot of environmental fluctuation," he said.

"There is less fish than there was in the 90s, it is fair to say, but the fishing industry is endeavouring to make sure we do have a sustainable future for generations to come."

And working towards that sustainable future means changes in fishing methods as Paul Trebilcock, the chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, explains.

Cornish fish facts
49 ports in Cornwall
326 miles of coast
30m-worth of fish landed in county annually

"All fisheries are moving towards that through mesh size changes, through technical measures and through TAC [total allowable catch] restrictions," he said.

"Scientists are saying that fishing mortality is falling on some key stocks and are actually recommending increases in quotas."

Seafood Cornwall's Nathan De Rozarieux says the findings reflect some of the worst fishing scenarios but a very different system is employed in the UK.

'Sustainable management'

"We have probably got the most beaureaucratic and heavily managed fisheries in Europe," he said.

"We really have got everything in place for a sustainable management system."

But Dr Beaumont told the BBC reducing commercial fishing was only part of the solution.

"I think we can be consumer savvy and try to choose to eat fish which are more sustainably caught.

"It's not just looking at the fish but our actions across the board."

'Only 50 years left' for sea fish
02 Nov 06 |  Science/Nature
Commissioner gives fishing pledge
19 Oct 06 |  North East/N Isles
Europe's cod puzzle hard to crack
18 Oct 06 |  Science/Nature
Fishing industry looks to future
31 May 05 |  Business

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