Mature and responsible fisheries management frequently requires necessary trade-offs between different objectives. By weighing the pros and cons and using the best available evidence, it is possible to edge towards the best all-round outcomes, gaining here, sacrificing there. It is what adults do every day of their lives after they learn, quite early on that “you can’t have it all.”
The Government has rightly defended the framework in its Fisheries Bill that allows for trade-offs between its eight objectives to be made, against those who would insist on one -dimensional primacy for the environmental objective.
Fisheries management requires these kind of judgement calls every day: balancing safe levels of fishing on one species, maximising yield on another, minimising discards, safeguarding the security of fishing businesses and fishing communities, providing food for our populations – all require trade-offs. That is what the Fisheries Bill framework provides.
Another good example of trade-offs comes into focus with Greenpeace’s outrageous decision to dump granite boulders on the Dogger Bank to prevent bottom trawling. Leaving aside that this action is illegal, and in the worse circumstance could lead to manslaughter charges, the Dogger Bank is a very large sand bank, or series of sand banks, in the North Sea. Trawling with bottom gear is the most effective way to catch species like scallops, dover sole and plaice when they are buried in sand. Dover sole can be caught in static nets and drift-nets, but the European Commission has calculated that if bottom trawling was banned, to land the total allowable catch of sole from the North Sea would require an increase of 1300% in the quantity of monofilament netting in use. That in turn would have adverse consequences for cetaceans like harbour porpoise. That is not something mentioned in the Greenpeace press statement.
It is possible to argue that the environmental cost of fishing is too high and that these species should be left in the sea. But fishing has the lowest carbon footprint of any form of food production. Denying people access to high-quality protein from the sea would be self-defeating, relying on alternatives which generate higher emissions of greenhouse gases.
Every fishing method has an environmental impact. The task that we as an industry face is to ensure that those impacts are as low as possible across the piece. There is no benefit in securing trophy scalps, if it only shifts the problem elsewhere.
There is a need for seriousness and maturity in how we manage our fisheries after the end of the transition period. Juvenile gestures, simplistic messaging and superficial understanding will not cut it. There is a reason why the objectives in the Fisheries Bill (five of which relate to sustainability in one way or another) have equal status. It is because fisheries managers have to recognise the tensions between, say, reducing carbon emissions and maintaining a diverse fleet which supplies a range of sustainably caught fish and shellfish.
It is also why one of the Bill’s objectives relates to management measures that are based on the best available evidence. Thought, care, perspective, looking out for unintended consequences: that is where the future management of our fisheries lies, not in futile and infantile gesture politics.