This week sees the annual carve up of commercial fish populations by the countries of the European Union. Ireland will be represented by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed. A report by the New Economics Foundation found that last year Minister Creed was among the worst offenders in Europe in ignoring scientific advice which would ensure the wise exploitation of fish .
Despite agreeing to ending overfishing and rebuilding depleted fish populations by 2020 progress to date has been too slow to achieve these targets. Indeed, according to the Marine Institute, more fish are overfished today than in 2016 (23% up from 20% last year). While some progress has been made (fish not overfished went from 38% to 39% over the same period), this is far too slow to have an impact and displays a disappointing lack of urgency by the Minister and his officials. As the legal deadline approaches it is becoming clear that only radical action will reverse the destruction which has been wrought on the sea.
IWT Campaigns Officer Pádraic Fogarty says “We have to start looking at closing the sea off to bottom trawling. This method of fishing is monstrously destructive and results in appalling levels of waste. It is mostly responsible for the disappearance of marine life from our coastal waters. Unless we take this bold step it will be impossible to meet the overlapping aims of ending overfishing, ending discarding (the throwing away of unwanted bycatch) and the protection of marine wildlife.”
According to the Marine Institute nearly all the sea bed around Ireland is trawled at least once and is responsible for the decline of endangered species of skate and sharks as well as the collapse of commercially important fish such as cod, sole and whiting.
Overfishing and habitat loss are only two pressures on our seas – as graphically depicted in the BBC TV series ‘Blue Planet’. Combined with climate change, plastic litter, acidification of the water and pollution, without drastic intervention our ocean faces a bleak future. The IWT has proposed the creation of Marine Protected Areas, better legal protection for threatened marine species and the position of independent observers on fishing boats as measures to better manage the marine environment. END