The farmer sitting beside me in Olivers Bar last weekend remarked on how quiet the pier is these days. He remembers not so long ago a bustle of activity as fish were landed here daily by dozens of small fishing vessels.
There is concern locally about the supertrawlers off the coast a worry that inshore fishing is being pushed towards extinction. The poor deal we got in in 1973 when we joined the EEC is obvious. We were promised at that time that joining the EU would mean better regulation and management of our waters yet what we are finding is that these waters have suffered massive overfishing since then.
The EU claims that 44 species of our fishing stock are at sustainable levels. If the industry was so good then there would not be the disparity between the statistics and what we see on the quays. One fisherman told me that the quota is so low that they could fill it in a week.
Whiting and Cod were super abundant off the coast of UK and Ireland. The UK studies show that the amount (biomass) of demersal fish from 1890 to 2008 has declined by 94% . There is a serious decline also in fish stocks off the west coast too. What has happened as one fish stock becomes depleted other fish species such as the deep sea species Orange roughy are found to harvest and to take their place. Landings of many species are on the decline. Cod harvest peaked in Ireland in 1992 but have fallen since, In 1981 15,600 tonnes of whiting were landed, but by 2004 less than 100t were caught Europe wide, Orange Roughy too are declining with 8000 tonnes landed in 2002 and only 450 tonnes landed in 2010.
The ecology of the ocean is changing; in the past scavenger species like crab and Dublin Bay Prawn (Nephrops)were not in the high numbers that they are now. The top predators such as cod that would have kept their numbers in check are much reduced and so their populations are free to explode with a boom for fisheries. Nephrops landing soared from 200 tonne in 1955 to a record high of 9,500 t in 2008.
Our ocean ecology and balance is critical. Critical for our fish species and for the communities that they support. We need to manage our seas so as to harvest the maximum amount of fish and still have healthy fish populations . This is not happening The World Bank estimates that we lose an estimated worldwide 83bn dollars a year due to poor fisheries management and 12bn of that relates specifically to the EU.
It is frightening to think that post Brexit most likely all those European boats with quota currently fishing in UK waters will be fishing off these western shores putting even more pressure on our scarece resources. Management of our resource is key – the best way to ensure continuation of inshore fishing is to manage it at as local a level as possible. Though how to achieve that with current constraints is hard to imagine. Fish extinction will mean an extinction of a whole way of life not only for our fish but for our fishermen and local communities too.
Fahy, E, 2004. Overkill