Fishing a victim of double standards – claim –

Fishing a victim of double standards – claim Published:  20 August, 2012

IS the UK fishing industry becoming the victim of double standards? This is the question posed by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) which suggests this may be the case.

The NFFO says: “We have become accustomed to offshore projects such as wind farms and aggregate dredging receiving planning consent based upon an official assessment that individual projects have minimal environmental impacts. The scale of marine installations, particularly for renewable energy, is set to grow massively over the next few years, and not just in UK waters, but also in the waters of neighbouring marine states such as Germany, the Netherlands and France.

But it adds that the same rules do not seem to apply to fishing.  “In contrast to marine developers, it is the entirety of fishing activity that is now the focus in driving policies that would potentially limit its extent.  “It is commonly claimed by environmental campaigners and their supporters in the media that the fishing industry has free access to all sea areas, and moreover that as a minimum the vast majority of seabed is subject to regular disturbance by bottom trawling; at its most extreme, bottom trawling is likened to felling rainforests annually by some of the more excitable campaigners, when fishing that returns to the same grounds from year to year can offer no comparison.”  Calling for fair treatment for fishing, the NFFO said the campaign for Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) has been thinly veiled surrogate for limiting the activities of the fishing industry.  Many people, when presented with “heat” maps of fishing activity data graded from blue to an “alarming” shade of red have automatically concluded there must be a problem, it argues. “Last year the federation, its members, and others in the industry battled multiple stakeholders on the English Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) regional projects to prevent those who had drawn this conclusion from allowing the projects to make erroneous recommendations on MCZ site conservation objectives and management measures.  In the interests of participatory decision-making, broad stakeholder groups had been given the latitude to make such potentially influential recommendations.”As anyone in the fishing industry knows, you can’t gain a perspective of actual fishing pressures by simply viewing charts of fishing activity spanning huge areas; the scaling of data is completely out of context.  Even vessel monitoring system (VMS) data is typically presented as data units categorised by the number of hours fished within a unit area, a necessary generalisation due to the two hourly ping of data points that characterise the underlying raw data.  It can easily mislead the lazy and uninformed and form useful propaganda material for those unsympathetic to the fishing industry.”

The truth of the matter, says the NFFO, is that no-one yet has a definitive scientific answer over the extent to which the seabed is subject to contact by bottom gears in terms of intensity and extent, let alone whether it is significant for wider ecosystem functioning.  The federation is now working with scientists to unearth the truth.