To the Glasgow fishing exhibition, Trawler Central. A huge hall full of big diesels and nets. I felt I owed the fishermen a visit as I have just occasionally had a pop at the Scottish fishing industry. The Fishing 2010 press release said I was brave to go. We screened a 52-minute version of The End of the Line in a theatre that was part of the fishing exhibition. On the panel: Bertie Armstrong from the Scottish Fishermens’ Federation, Philip MacMullen from Seafish, Louize Hill from WWF and Callum Roberts from York University.
Let’s deal with the routine stuff first: Scottish fishermen have turned the corner and are doing their best to bring about the recovery of the cod. Absolutely, said I, credit where it is due. There is no evidence that marine reserves work for migratory species. Nonsense, said Callum and I, the only place in the world they say that is Aberdeen and they’ve no evidence for it. Why not set one up and do a proper experiment? Why don’t fishermen get any credit for doing good things when they do? Well, how often am I supposed to praise the Scotttish conservation credits scheme? I was the first journalist to praise Scottish fishermen for going to Brussels and arguing that they should be given more quota if they fished more selectively. I said a couple of years ago that the British fishing industry seemed to have turned the corner after the disgraceful situation of a decade or more ago with up to 50 per cent of the cod taken from the North Sea illegally. How many times do you want me to say it?
Two things that were said stood out for me that day. One was said by a West Coast trawlerman and scallop dredger. “You’re the one who’s obsequious to the public,” he said. I confess I got very annoyed by that. After all, hadn’t I spent years writing about what I considered to be the scandal of overfishing long before anyone else seemed to know about it or a publisher would publish it? Hadn’t I spent two years with a number of others turning a not-for-profit film that turned that book into a film? I’m not sure which bit was being obsequious to the public. As far as I was concerned, I was attempting to report the truth and the public were decent enough to take up the message of the film because they believed our case that overfishing was a much more serious problem than we recognised before.
Several Scottish fishermen seemed to hear an RP accent and assume one has made a fortune out of the film when most of us had actually made sacrifices to tell the truth. The other thing that surprised me was when Louize Hill of WWF said that Scotland was “not that bad,” or words to that effect, when it came to fisheries. This may have been a slip of the tongue. What she probably meant was that the cod in the North Sea may have turned the corner. But I would not like WWF to think that Scotland did not have fisheries disasters as bad as any in the world. You have only to look at the Firth of Clyde, just a few miles downriver from Glasgow. The cod, haddock and whiting are now gone, collapsed to a state where the US government would have long ago closed the fishery to any kind of mobile gear, ie trawls.
Langoustines are now the staple for both the creel and trawl fisheries. Yet Marine Science Scotland reported this year that even the langoustine is being exploited unsustainably in the Clyde – and in many other parts of Scotland. The discard rate of whitefish is colossal. When you have fished out all the fish and then the shellfish, what will you have left but jellyfish and plankton? The Scottish Government continues to be in denial about the disaster that is Scotland’s West Coast.
If it were to recognise what its own scientists are saying it might have to do something about fishing effort, which would play poorly with its core constituency. It would be disconcerting to think that any environmental groups nourished any of the same delusions.