Cod philosophy

CONSUMERS have become all too used to the practice of speculation, and the perilous effect it can have on the rest of the economy, but few would have thought the straightforward trade of fishing would have fallen prey to this craze. That it has done so, with such worrying consequences for the industry’s smaller boats, is symptomatic of the intensely complex maritime bureaucracy presided over by the British Government and the EU.

A new report by a House of Commons committee reveals the true scale of the Byzantine system of quotas in which England’s fishermen try to forge a livelihood. It is right that quotas act as an adjuster, by moving around to where the need is greatest, but they should not be treated as commodities, to be traded like the financial instruments of the City.

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The range of those groups trading in quotas, from inactive or retired fishermen to even a football club, underlines the absurdity of the current system, and Anne McIntosh, the MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey, is right to raise concerns.

The Government should not hesitate to adopt the reforms recommended by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which will make the fishing industry simpler and more efficient. It must also look again at the practice of fish discards because, while this may seem an obscure maritime practice, its effect is considerable, distorting the market and wasting the fish remaining in the sea. Clearly the expansion of Project 50%, in which alterations were made to trawlers to help fishermen target their catch, can play a part in the solution.

Of course, the industry faces many other problems while operating under the dead hand of the EU. The union is unlikely to change, however, so our domestic Government should concentrate on making the quota system work for our fishermen, and not against them.