For years, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been warning that the fish species off the coast of Europe would crash due to excessive overfishing.
Now the European Union in another case of doing too little, too late, has proposed the closure of dangerously depleted cod grounds in the North Sea, Irish Sea, and off the west of Scotland.
European fishing fleets will be asked to make reductions in their catch of up to 60% for herring, 34% for cod and 27% for mackerel. These measures, however, are less than what needs to be done. The entire fishing industry must be shut down if these species are to survive.
According to Captain Paul Watson, the President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, "What Europe is proposing is to cut down the quotas to allow for the continued exploitation at the same relative rate of exploitation as before. These proposals will do little to stop the complete collapse of entire fish species off the coast of Europe. The seas off Europe will soon become a biological wasteland unless there is a complete moratorium on fishing sufficient to allow these devastated populations to recover."
According to the EU, "The proposals seek to strike a balance between what is biologically essential for recovery of fishing stocks and what is economically reasonable for the fishing fleet."
The commission also suggested the closure of cod grounds in Kattegat and Skagerrak in the Baltic and the eastern English Channel.
Other species with proposed cuts in certain fishing grounds are saithe (24%), plaice, skate, common sole, whiting (20%) and North Sea sandeel (14%) and Norway lobster (10%).
Some increases are proposed where stocks are plentiful. These include a 61% increase in the whiting catch in some areas, an increase of 22% for blue whiting, up to 20% more on the haddock quota and a 9% rise for hake.
Other suggested measures include tighter policing of fishing and catch landings at ports, controls in mixed fishing grounds to avoid the taking of cod as a "by-catch" while fishing for hake or whiting and restrictions on days at sea - currently fifteen per month. The commission has also outlined plans to further reduce the number of days allowed for cod fishing in the west of Scotland because, it says, the problem is particularly acute there.
The EU claims to have a long-term approach to delivering sustainable fishing "The cod fishery in the west of Scotland has virtually disappeared, because there is no cod left," said Ernesto Penas Lado of the fisheries directorate-general.
The proposals will now be the subject of intense haggling between EU fisheries ministers at talks in Brussels just prior to Christmas.
A report in October by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) went further than the European Commission's proposals. ICES called for a ban on cod fishing in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and west of Scotland in 2005.
Asked why the commission had not adopted these recommendations, a spokesperson for the commission said it had been decided that the scientists had not taken account of the effect of tough restrictions already being acted on, particularly in the Irish Sea. "A gradual approach prevents sudden fluctuations in [fish quotas] which make it difficult for fishermen to plan their activities from one year to the next," said the spokesperson. "We must not be lulled into thinking that the gradual approach is a soft option."
This is, of course, "bureaucrat speak" to justify business as usual.
On Tuesday, Britain's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) proposed that commercial fishing should be banned in 30% of UK waters to save threatened species.
Sea Shepherd proposes that there be a 100% moratorium on cod fish for fifty years to allow for the recovery of this much diminished species. According to Captain Watson, "The cod have not recovered off Newfoundland over the last 12 years, so fifty years in a more practical period to ensure the possibility of recovery."
Sea Shepherd also proposes a 100% moratorium on sand eels to save the puffins, a bird species that relies on these little fish for survival. According to Captain Watson, "sand eels are puffin food and humans have no business stealing it from them."
Sea Shepherd holds the position that worldwide fisheries are in collapse because of the excessive greed of the industry over the decades and that the only solution to the collapse is to ban all commercial fishing activities worldwide.
Defending this position, Captain Watson said from his ship the Farley Mowat in Bermudan waters, "This may seem like a radical position, but it is far less radical than continuing to exterminate entire species of fish from the sea. We are the conservatives here and the radicals are intent upon justifying their greedy destruction. The plain fact of the matter is that there are too many people and not enough fish in the sea to continue to feed them. All commercial fishing activities must be shut-down to prevent massive extinctions and extirpations of dozens of species worldwide. The cod is done, the Chilean sea bass are finished - even sharks have been dangerously diminished. When will humanity demonstrate some of this so-called intelligence that we attribute to ourselves, and take steps to protect and conserve these species?"
Sea Shepherd also notes that non-European Union members like Iceland, Norway, and the Faeroe Islands remain the most prolific of fishing nations and continue to take what they want, from where they want, whenever they want.
If people care for the future of the oceans, they should boycott all fish and seafood products from these three nations especially. It is because they continue to excessively overfish that you find Icelandic shrimp on menus in Bermuda and Icelandic cod on menus in Paris and Los Angeles.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society practices what we preach. No fish or shellfish are ever served on board Sea Shepherd ships. Crewmembers are prohibited from fishing from the vessels and donations of fish from fishing companies or boats are refused.