Fish and chips has always been one of Britain’s most delicious meals and with sustainable fishing it still can be says PETER FROST

 I’m 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.

This set of rules that govern the European fishing industry – 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.

In fact the policy has utterly failed our fish and our fishing communities – not just those in Hastings – 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; from the fisher-folk who go to sea right down to your local chippy.

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.

Today, three quarters of our fish species are overfished. Many are on the edge of extinction. 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. Vast vessels that vacuum up every living thing in the ocean.

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.

As we can see on the beach 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.

At Hastings for instance each boat has a boy-on-shore, often a retired fisherman who helps launch and recover the boat, does basic maintenance and gets paid with a share of the catch.

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.

This article first published in the Morning Star, 2013


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