With the European Common Fishing Policy in the headlines PETER FROST tries to make sense of it all and suggests a few days out to find out more.
I have a good rule. Fish always tastes best if you eat it where you can see the boats that caught it.
If you can find small boats launched from the beach or a local harbour and a shed where the fishermen sell their days catch to passers-by then that’s the best way to buy and eat fish.
The rule has stood me in good stead in Whitby – Britain’s best fish and chip town; in Great Yarmouth where they still make a decent kipper: in Hastings with the biggest beach launched fishing fleet in Europe; and in Shetland where the scallops and local farmed mussels are second to none.
The list could go on and on but I’ll finish with amazing lobster, crabs and other shellfish in Jersey.
Jersey has much to teach us about sustainable fishing not least because of the pioneering work of their long term 1960’s Fishing Minister the Communist Member of the States Parliament Norman le Brocq.
Jersey even named their Fishing Protection Vessel in his honour. The proud little ship the Norman le Brocq still keeps an eye on fishing in the seas around Jersey.
The set of rules that govern the European fishing industry – the Common Fishing Policy (CFP) – is one of the EU’s most disastrous inventions and policies.
It was introduced by the European Union in the 1970s. The EU claimed its purpose was to ensure a profitable and sustainable fishing industry.
Sadly they put the emphasis on profit not sustainability.
In fact the policy has utterly failed our fish and our fishing communities and it desperately needs fixing.
The CFP is reformed only once every decade and this process began in 2012. Now is the time for action and pressure to get the policy put right.
How it is changed and reformed this time round is going to be crucial for the future of our entire UK fishing industry.
Unless we can get it right this time we shall witness the collapse of both European fish populations and the whole European fishing industry.
The traditional fishing grounds around Europe are the largest in the world and were once amongst the most productive.
Now after forty years of unsustainable fishing under the CFP, European fish stocks are in a sorry state.
Different fish species become threatened – as cod and mackerel have recently – concerned customers seek out other fish to eat or stop eating fish altogether.
Today, three quarters of our fish species are overfished. Many are on the edge of extinction. Yet tons of perfectly eatable fish are thrown back dead into the sea.
The CFP favours the most powerful parts of the fishing industry and these are the ones with the most disastrous environmental impact.
These vast vessels vacuum up every living thing in the ocean or drag heavy trawl nets across the sea bottom crushing and destroying all marine life.
Yet these huge boats using unsustainable and destructive methods are the ones that have been awarded the lion’s share of EU quotas.
They also claim billions in taxpayer subsidies.
This has resulted in companies building bigger boats, capable of catching even more fish. They trawl for profits not for food.
Today the European fishing fleet is so powerful that it can catch two to three times more fish than there are in the seas.
A thousand year old fishing fleet.
We are in Hastings, walking along the Stade, as the call the seafront here, eating fish and chips out of the paper.
It is fresh, local and delicious.
Hastings is the town of Robert Tressell, author of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. We need someone with Tressell’s clarity of thought to explain the ridiculous state of our native fishing industry today.
On the pebble beach behind the tall black tarred net huts is Hasting’s famous fishing fleet.
This is the biggest fleet of beach launched boats anywhere in Britain.
Indeed with over two dozen craft it’s the biggest beach fleet in Europe.
There has been a fishing fleet here for well over a thousand years – long before the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
In that thousand years there was always enough fish to keep the boats busy and the local people fed.
It should be like that today but thanks to the EU and its Common Fishing Policy (CFP) life isn’t that simple.
As we can see on the beach here at Hastings there are better methods for a sustainable catch. Here is fishing on a human scale not driven by mega profits.
Over three quarters of the boats in the entire UK fleet, like the beach boats at Hastings, are under ten metres long and the majority of these British boats use sustainable methods of catching fish.
These smaller scale fleets still generate many jobs both at sea and on shore.
These boats, their crews and the land based support workers are part of the rich cultural fabric of our coastal communities.
However, in the UK, Cameron and Clegg despite their bluster about standing up to Europe have kowtowed to the EU. Our small scale fleet is granted just a miserly four percent of the entire European fishing quota.
We need to campaign for a new Common Fishing Policy that puts an end to this environmentally damaging and unjust system.
The new policy must support sustainable, low-impact fisheries like those at Hastings and at other ports around our coast.
If we are to salvage a future for our fish and our fishermen, the new CFP must only award rights and quotas to those who fish in a sustainable way.
Quotas should only be given to those who can clearly demonstrate environmental and social benefits. We need to reward those who support local communities and look after their local fisheries.
We need to stop using EU funding to bankroll destructive fishing practices both in Europe and around the world, and ensure that strict European rules apply equally to all European vessels wherever they fish.
The health of our seas and oceans, and the fish stocks they support, need to be at the very heart of the new policy.
The CFP must bring an end to the needless nonsense of discard – throwing away perfectly good fish that have been caught above the quota.
We need to match fishing effort to fish stocks and create a better tomorrow for those that fish sustainably.
Environmental campaigning organisations like Greenpeace, the RSPB and The World Wildlife Fund as well as fisherman’s organisations and even some TV chefs are already fighting the battle for sustainable fishing. We need to throw our weight behind them.
That way there really can be plenty more fish in the sea – as well as at your local chippy.
They couldn’t run a whelk stall
I suppose that when we have a government that you wouldn’t trust running a whelk stall I shouldn’t be surprised at the sad state of our native shellfish and fishing industry.
As a lad in working class London winkles were the cheap Sunday supper staple for our family; served with brown bread and butter and a pot of tea. Along with the inevitable singing of the Winkle Song – an old music-hall number living far beyond its natural span.
Today it’s not that easy to find winkles in Britain. They are still caught here but many are shipped off to Paris to be served as a pre-dinner delicacy that posh Parisians nibble as the sip their Kir Royale.
Whelks are the same. They bring tons of them ashore at Kings Lynn caught out on the sandbanks of the Wash. Most are flown off to Korea for the tinned whelk soup market.
So when I pop along to my local supermarket fish counter I’m offered frozen Dutch cockles, and a selection of prawns and shrimps from places like Thailand, Vietnam and Bangladesh where multinational frozen food conglomerates have destroyed and flooded the local farm land.
Worst of all in my eyes is the disgusting amount of air miles it takes to land a New Zealand green shelled mussel on my plate – I won’t touch them and lest you think me a food hero frankly I’m not missing much.
Our black and blue native mussels on the other hand are now farmed all around our coast, particularly in Scottish waters, and are sustainable, cheap and delicious.
So next time you are buying shellfish or indeed any other fish ask the person selling it is local? And is it from a sustainable source?
You do that and I promise I won’t make you listen to me singing the Winkle Song!
Smelly things kippers
So smelly in fact that although the converted kipper factory that now houses the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth cured their last kippers back in the 1960’s you can still smell the distinctive aroma today.
This isn’t some clever museum trick, this is just the odour produced by decades of oak smoked herring getting deep into the very fabric of the building.
They do say that once there were so many herring drifters in Yarmouth harbour you could walk from one side of the harbour to the other across their decks.
So huge were the catches all down the East Coast that teams of Scottish fishing girls, some from as far north as Shetland, would follow the fleet south to clean and gut the herring ready for curing.
These various kinds of cured herrings were exported as far away as Russia and Canada. East Coast herrings fed the world.
Today we are once again discovering that kippers aren’t just delicious but are also very good for you. It’s something to do with long chain Omega 3 fatty acids. Healthy and great to eat? What more could you want?
There is no shortage of good kippers still available in Great Yarmouth and other traditional today herring fisheries all along our coast today.
The humble herring had so many uses and brought such affluence it earned the name Silver Darlings from the fishermen.
A Kipper is a split and gutted smoked herring.
A Bloater is a whole smoked herring.
A Buckling is a herring hot smoked.
A Red Herring is a very, very smelly smoked herring and thus perfect for leaving a false trail – hence the common usage.
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What about fish farms?
Forty per cent of the world’s fish is already farmed. Half of the fish sold by British supermarkets comes from fish farms.
Could this be the answer to all our problems?
Unfortunately these fish farms are not sustainable and put enormous pressure on the surrounding wildlife and environment. Many are in the Third world.
Most farmed fish are expensive carnivorous species like salmon, cod, seabass, and various exotic prawns.
The farms consume huge quantities of fishmeal and fish oil all made from wild fish vacuumed up by huge mechanised fleets
It takes three kilos of these wild fish produce a single Kilo of farmed salmon, and the ratio’s even higher for prawns.
Taking so much wild fish to feed farmed stocks is depriving wild fish of their natural diet. Whales, dolphins, and seabirds, also suffer.
As do coastal communities particularly in developing countries.
Farms use high levels of antibiotics and pesticides to control diseases and these have a polluting effect on surrounding habitats.
Diseases too often spread to wild populations. Fish lice and other parasites are all too common and again they can attack wild fish stocks.
Excess food and untreated wastes from farms also find their way into the wider environment, causing algal blooms and other problems.
Finally there is a serious genetic problem.
Wild fish survive because they are resistant to disease, skilled at hunting and avoiding predators.
Farmed fish soon lose these characteristics. Those that escape breed with wild fish and pass on these bad genes.
True, farmed fish have made traditionally posh smoked salmon and prawn cocktails no longer the prerogative of the rich.
In the end we may all have to pay the true cost of farming fish.
This article first published in the Morning Star, 2013