Overfishing and the EU

Emily Horn on her bike

Long-time readers will remember the saga of the ‘fish paper’ – my research piece on the sustainability and legality of European Union fisheries policy in West Africa, eventually published in the MIT International Review.

Fisheries being an area of acute concern for me, I was gratified to see an unusually hard-hitting column in this week’s Economist about fish and the EU. It argues that EU goverments have shown “abject cowardice” in relation to their fishers for years. Meanwhile, overcapacity and unsustainable quotas have put the industry into a “suicidal spiral.” The article reports straightforwardly that: “More subsidies would reduce the already slim chance that Europe will ever have a sustainable fishing industry.”

I have argued previously that fishing should never be subsidized. There are far too many dangers of people selfishly exploiting a common good even without them. Indeed, I don’t have much hope when it comes to the long-term viability of world fisheries. That being said, if more people develop the understanding and candour displayed in this article, perhaps the madness can eventually be brought to heel.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

9 thoughts on “Overfishing and the EU”

  1. The language there is definitely a lot harsher than their usual optimistic take on environmental issues. That said, pretty much everyone agrees that modern fishing is absurdly unsustainable. The evidence is everywhere and inescapable.

  2. Poly (is that how you spell his name) is being interviewed on CBC radio tommorow. They are talking about fish all week.

  3. Africa fish fall blamed on Japan
    By Richard Black
    Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Santiago, Chile

    A coalition of conservation groups and a leading fisheries scientist have accused Japan of damaging the fisheries interests of poorer countries.

    They say Japan promotes the argument that whales are responsible for declining fish stocks in order to boost support for whale hunting.

  4. Pirate fishing boats target Africa

    By Richard Black
    Environment correspondent, BBC News website

    There is a kind of theft that happens every day in a majority of the world’s poor countries – and in many of the richer ones too.

    It usually happens out of sight, and most perpetrators get away with it.

    The monetary value of this theft is about $15bn per year; the ecological cost can only be guessed at.

  5. Fishy business

    SIR – In your story on Africa’s oceans (“A sea of riches”, February 18th) I was misquoted as advocating a ten-year ban on industrial fishing. What I said was that in many places industrial fishing is unsustainable, unregulated and not beneficial for the local economy or coastal communities. Regulating the industry is also costly for governments, while much of the income generated is filtered away. In the short term, where the prospect of well-regulated industrial fisheries is unlikely, a temporary moratorium on the most destructive practices may be the only way to avert an environmental catastrophe. But a ten-year ban on all industrial fishing in Africa would be silly; it is not what I proposed.

    André Standing

  6. Chinese fishermen have been detained in Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, all of whose maritime claims overlap with or mirror China’s. But it is not just in contested waters that they get into trouble. Chinese have also been detained in the Russian Far East, North Korea and Sri Lanka in recent years. In 2011 a Chinese fisherman stabbed a South Korean coastguard to death. The next year one was killed by the police in Palau, a tiny Pacific republic. Farther afield, last December two dozen African countries called on China to stop illegal fishing off west Africa. And just this week four Chinese fishermen were freed from detention in Argentina.

    More than national sovereignty, what is driving these far-flung adventures is that China is by far the world’s largest consumer (and exporter) of fish. Chinese fish-consumption per person is twice the global average. Aquaculture has met much of this growing demand. But China’s wild catch also dwarfs that of other countries (13.9m tonnes in 2012, compared with 5.4m for Indonesia, 5.1m for America, 3.6m for Japan and 3.3m for India). Overfishing and pollution have blighted China’s inshore fisheries. Stocks are severely depleted: in the South China Sea, with a tenth of the global fish catch, inshore (coastal) fisheries have just 5-30% left of the stocks they had in the 1950s. Chinese fishermen are driven farther offshore and into distant waters.

    China’s government encourages this, seeing food security as a priority and fishing as a good source of jobs (14m of them). In 2013 the president, Xi Jinping, visited Tanmen, a fishing port on the southern island of Hainan, and urged fishermen there to “build bigger ships and venture even farther into the oceans and catch bigger fish.” The government provides subsidies for new boats, fuel and navigation aids.

  7. In Sierra Leone nearly half the population does not have enough to eat, and fish make up most of what little protein people get. But the country’s once-plentiful shoals, combined with its weak government, have lured a flotilla of unscrupulous foreign trawlers to its waters. Most of the trawlers fly Chinese flags, though dozens also sail from South Korea, Italy, Guinea and Russia. Their combined catch is pushing Sierra Leone’s fisheries to the brink of collapse.

    There are scant official data on the state of Sierra Leone’s fish stocks, but local fishermen have their own measure of the problem. Sulaman Kamara, Pa Seaport’s 33-year-old son, has been fishing since he was 16. “The fish are less, they are definitely less,” he says. “And the valuable types are disappearing. We used to get a lot of bonga and kine [barracuda]. Now they are rare. Sometimes the catch hardly pays for the boat’s petrol.” He blames foreign trawlers, saying they use nets with small holes that sweep up the baby fish.

    Pa Seaport’s daughter and Sulaman’s half-sister, Kadiatu Kamara, is a government fisheries officer. She agrees that there are fewer fish, but says it is not just because of the foreign trawlers. She also blames locals who catch the fish as they breed.

    Even so, a little boat might catch in a year what a trawler can take in less than two days. As young men like Sulaman pull in ever emptier nets, it seems high time that the government polices its waters.

  8. Another factor that makes fishing touchy is that it is intensely geographically concentrated. In some European ports it generates more than 30% of local output and more than 50% of jobs; more if associated activities like transport, shipbuilding and fishmongering are included. If the industry suffers, the effects are starkly visible. Some of the poorest parts of north-west Europe are fishing towns whose trade has withered. Grimsby, on England’s east coast, is so down-at-heel that Sacha Baron Cohen set a film there. Concentrated deprivation creates political pressure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *