Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Thoughts on sustainable fishing

Now that I've found the fish, if my longline techniques work as hoped, it should be no problem going back and getting them as soon as the weather clears. Till now, I've been the most sustainable of fishermen - using no fuel, and catching no fish - sailing about dripping fresh water onto the sea as my ice slowly melts.

We know there's a problem with trawling. That's why we have quotas, regulations on net sizes and designs, limitations on days at sea, and boat scrappage incentives. More bureaucratic constraints to counter the effects of improved technology. A modern trawler is computerised and loaded with fantastic echo sounders and satellite information giving sea temperatures and of course GPS. Trawlers can now predict where fish are likely to be, go there directly and precisely, see the sea floor in 3D, see where the shoals of fish are and trawl their nets at just the right depth to scoop them up with clinical efficiency.

Pretty good really, apart from the indiscriminate nature of trawling - so that fish that weren't targetted or that are subject to quota are thrown back dead. And of course, the never mentioned dependency on cheap oil.

The solution often put forward to this industrial fishing is small scale line fishing, which almost eliminates by-catch and doesn't wreck the sea floor as beam trawling does. But there are problems with line fishing too!

Line fishing is only really productive on wrecks. The sea floor in the English Channel is mostly flat and barren, but there are thousands of wrecks dotted all over the place and fish congregate around them. The wrecks provide shelter and with all the nooks and crannies, a diverse environment where many species can flourish. I have a theory that the iron in the wrecks may promote life in the sea too, iron being a limiting factor for plankton. But that's just my theory. Anyway, the wrecks are where the fish are.

The wrecks have been mapped, because if you are trawling, catching your net on a wreck can wreck the net or worse. So trawlers like to go round the wrecks (though a skipper may go as close as he dares). The wrecks provide some shelter for the fish from the trawlers. Wrecks are like mini-conservation zones.

Except even the small scale fisherman is now armed with all he needs to exploit the wrecks. I have a pretty complete (I'm pretty sure) database of all the wrecks in the English Channel and beyond. And all the reefs, banks, rocky outcrops. I've got GPS - who hasn't? Many of the wrecks have their positions marked accurate to within 10 metres. So now many of the wrecks have nets laid alongide them. Which spoils things for line fishermen, so they favour the unnetted wrecks.

From my trip on Sunday, systematically trying wrecks further and further offshore, it is clear that the inshore wrecks are virtually empty of fish. You can catch some decent fish, but it takes time, jigging your lure about, waiting and waiting. On the wrecks further out, you drop your lure and get a hit right away. That's where the fish are.

But they are being cleaned out by line fishermen. Commercial guys and armies of anglers on charter boats. Look at this fishing report for Dartmouth based trips. The charter boats don't bother with the inshore wrecks any more. They go for the mid-Channel wrecks. Mid-Channel! The wrecks halfway across. Trouble is, if you go any further out, you meet the French line fishermen coming the other way! The wrecks in the middle are the last to be targetted. I heard that one of the most experienced commercial line fishermen working out of the Dart was considering going as far as the Western Approaches to find unspoiled wrecks. Previously productive wrecks were now producing nothing more than small pollack. Those fishermen with their 'sustainable' methods are clear-felling the fish populations on the wrecks!

Where will it end? It will end where the fish are so far off as to be uneconomical for the deisel-powered line fishermen to reach. And that's where I come in, able to cover great distances for free. If I get my methods sorted out, I'll be able to clean out the places other fishermen can't reach. And I'll be able to sell my fish as sustainably caught, (line caught, no by-catch, no harm to the sea-floor) and close to zero carbon consumption. The grim irony blackens any green credibility I may appear to possess.

No comments:

Post a Comment