The truth about the EU Common Fisheries Policy
by our secret columnist in Brussels
Fishermen remain unconcerned about conservation, ministers are focused only on tomorrow's newspaper headline and the cartoon showing them snagged in a net, while scientists are dismissed as unworldly for wanting to reduce the catch size. Our resident satirist Schadenfreude casts his net over the different vested interests
It is a real fishy story. Nye Bevan, a firebrand Welsh politician of the 1950s once said that since the British Isles was built on coal and surrounded by fish, how could there ever be a shortage of either? Logical enough except that when a fish is caught, it does not breed and if too many are caught there is no new generation.
The European Union has a Common Fisheries Policy, which is probably the most strongly calumniated of all its doings. It says to the men and women, who go out to sea in ships, if you catch X in location Y - you can only do a limited amount and if you go over or haul in the wrong kind, you must throw it back.
The European Commission employs highly-qualified biologists and statisticians, who can tell from the scale of previous catches and the maturity of the fish caught how many more or less there will be in the next season. The principle of the control is to ensure that there will be catchable supply as well as regeneration. The annual limits, which the boffins propose, outrage fishermen and their political representatives.
When the commission tables its annual catch control, region by region and species by species - the fins start to fly. Ministers have already been lobbied by their fishermen's associations to the effect that the proposals - whatever they are - will ruin the industry and its cherished coastal communities. The sea-horse trading begins. Every minister wants more and dare not leave the room to face his national association leaders, hanging about outside, until something has been gained. The scientists are dismissed as unworldly. Ministers sternly declare that they are not academics, but inhabitants of the real world of politics and regular elections. Deals are done in the corners and a new overall scheme emerges, only to be blasted by the fishermen as being completely divorced from the realities of marine life.
It is all very odd. Fishermen should be concerned about the conservation, which is their future. Ministers are understandably concerned only about tomorrow's headline and the cartoon showing them snagged in a net. Schadenfreude once watched a trawler unloading its catch in a Danish port. Another spectator identified himself as a fisheries inspector. Schadenfreude, who wanted to understand the system, asked if his interlocutor was counting the catch against the quota. "No, I am a quality controller, the counting is done in Copenhagen," replied the official. Nice one, this is also known as creative accounting.