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The 19th century changed this bucolic industry for ever. The pursuit of fish is a delicate matter. If fishing pressure
From the 1830s the spread of railway networks expanded is balanced so as not to exceed the rate of fish replenish-
markets for fresh fish deep inland and the fleet multiplied ment in the sea, then fisheries will prosper. But if we
to meet demand. Then in the 1880s steam power was remove too many – even just a few – then stocks decline.
added to fishing boats. Engine power was so effective that Over the last 150 years, we have done exactly that, in the
by the turn of the twentieth century, there was hardly a process gradually emptying the sea of the fish we most
sailing boat left in the fleet. Over the last 100 years the like to eat. It is a little-known fact that in 1889, when
fishing industry has rapidly embraced new technologies – records began, bottom trawlers landed six times more
diesel power, monofilament, echo sounders, hi-tech fish into England and Wales than they do today. These
electronics – that has increased the fishing power of landings were made by a much smaller fleet than today’s
individual vessels by an extraordinary 3-5% per year. that was still mostly powered by sail. For all their techno-
Such developments should have enriched the industry,
logical power and sophistication, modern fishing fleets
but instead they have impoverished it. The problem was
produce only a small fraction of the fish landed by vessels
well known as early as the 1920s, when Michael Graham,
in the past. This is not a result of draconian EU regulation,
who was later to become the UK’s chief fishery scientist,
as some would claim, it is a simple consequence of too
wrote:
much fishing and too little protection.
“In the early ‘20’s [Danny’s] trawl was lighter, without a
This is why I welcome the UK’s Marine Act as a chance
heavy ground rope or tickler chain, so it was easier to
to change the fortunes of life in our seas, and with it,
handle. It was not necessary in the ‘20’s to fish among
reinvigorate the fortunes of a moribund fishing industry.
boulders, and to use three-hour hauls, which, with average
We must use it to create a network of Marine Conservation
amount of trawl mending, reduce the period of rest to
Zones that will begin the process of rebuilding depleted
under six hours out of twenty-four, including meal times.
fish stocks and repairing their habitats. Vast areas of
seabed, for example, were once carpeted with rich crusts
This is scraping for a living – expensive, skillful and up-
of sponges, oysters, maerl, coral, seafans and other life
to-date scraping; but anxious and ill-rewarded – with
that has been stripped away by centuries of trawling and
every sign of being an effort contending with some invin-
dredging. As experience in other countries has
cible force of nature and economics – as men struggle on
demonstrated already, the seas have great powers of re-
the edge of the Dustbowl, or cling to eastern American
covery if they are given space and time free from human
lands when the forest is coming back.”
interference.
ENVIRONMENT INDUSTRY MAGAZINE
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