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Fishermen are the last of the real hunters

Speech by Kurt Bertelsen Christensen. Living Sea Denmark

Bread and Fish. Germany 2005

Fishing is a human right but the fish however are disappearing because we don’t respect the basic rules for hunting and the exploitation of nature. Fishing as a life form and a trade has always been governed by the biology and behaviour of the fish. Nature, fish and fishery have always decided the balance and rhythm of any fishery.

But this balance has been thrown over board by the industrialization of modern fishing, which is taking place everywhere and at all times, no matter the weather conditions or the characteristic of the fishing ground. The fish are pursued even amongst the rocks and wrecks, which recently gave them shelter and protection. The consequences have been dramatic. Before the advent of industrialized fishing everyone was convinced that it was impossible to empty the sea today the industrialized fishing has shown that this is not so.

For many years the EU has worked on developing a fishery reform which was supposed to put an end to the destruction which over-fishing has caused in our common seas.

Now however it has become alarmingly clear that those who started, and those who followed, have not been able to solve it. They have not understood the reality, which governs the sea, and the fishery has therefore merely been allowed to continue on the same destructive course, which has led to the current situation.

The authorities and the major fishery associations haven’t been able to take the responsibility for the fishery, and therefore we have to encourage the European population eating fish to understand and defend good fishing practices. We encourage everyone to use their political influence to further and develop an ecologically sustainable fishery a fishery which is real, in the sense that it can sustain itself as a balanced hunt and harvest in accordance with the natural conditions, without damaging the stocks or the marine environment. This fishery (still) exists and is ready to take its position as the real link between humans and sea. It is economically reasonable, it maintains the virility and cultural importance of the coastal community, and it provides fish of high quality. At the same time therefore, we should encourage the population to accept that the necessary funds be earmarked for helping fishermen to change to fishing methods which live up to the aims of this declaration.

Since the industrialization of fishing has led to the development of destructive forms of fishing, and since the EU has committed itself to furthering the ecologically sustainable fishery, Living Sea declares the following:

  • That the hunting and catching of fish is a historic right – a natural human right.
  • That all fishing should be conducted on an ecologically sustainable basis.
  • That fishery administration should be carried out in a manner such as to secure the future generations of wild fish, and to create a viable and diversified fishing industry.

Nothing in the Living Sea declaration should be interpreted as entitling any state, group or individual to carry out an enterprise or act, which violates the fundamental right of humans to conduct a fishery and to exploit the marine resource.

The Baltic Sea and its region

Many fishery harbours in the Baltic region has undergone dramatic set backs during the past decades, local fishermen shake their head at the current political debate about the sustainability in European fishery: While the discussion focuses on which national industrial fleet should have more access to the decreasing common stocks, the real conflict in fishery is repressed – the highly industrialized and capitalized fishery is effectively and dramatically exterminating the real fishery (fishery conducted in accordance with the natural ecological conditions, and with a diversity of products and lively harbours as the results).

This crisis has been going on already several decades, following a perverse logic: Ruin the small, decentralise and labour intensive manifold of vessels in the harbours, and let the factories take over with their ecologically hazard methods and gastronomically as well as culturally impoverished production. The industrialized fishery, has already proven to be unsustainable, unattractive and without perspective. On gloomy days, the real fishermen prognoses that:”at first they will ruin us – then they will ruin themselves”. It is imperative that this development be reversed!

The oversimplified antagonism between the fisheries obfuscates the fact that we now face the highly important choice: Do we want a continued capitalization and industrialization in European fishery, or do we want a varied, lively and ecologically, and hence long term economically, sustainable fishery?

We believe that Baltic Sea fishery should have as its overall aim to keep as many fishermen as possible in the fishery trade. Therefore the efforts to reduce the total fleet must be directed at the vessels and methods, which have beyond any reasonable doubt caused the over fishing of the stocks to a catastrophic level. Cod, e.g., should be caught in staying nets and long line, not in vastly energy consuming trawls, brutally destroy the sea bottom and endanger the stocks. But there is an urgent need of political initiative to make this possible. As things are going, extremely costly vessels (economically as well as ecologically) are turning fishery into industry, and the foundation of thousands of real fishing vessels into mere memories of the past.

Skipper and board member in Living Sea board Gunnar Jacobsen says:”I would like to continue my “Danish seine” fishery, but the portions have become too small for me to live from it, and therefore I am now also forced to apply for financial support to terminate the fishery from my boat.” His cutter, E 230 Merkur, can not be converted into other types of fishery, and he is therefore about to give up the unequal competition with new modern trawlers with huge engine power that go out and vacuum clean the sea. 

We demand – also on behalf of European tax payers – that the fishery reform in the EU takes as its aim to keep as many fishermen in the trade as possible. The fishermen do not need to be trained for other trades. They need a rational and a radical decommission of the vast trawlers that catch 80 % of the fish – and a clear political will to sustain the variety, the quality and the pride of the European fishery trade.

Today we can conclude that the industrialised fishery - it means the fishery with relatively big vessels, heavy machinery etc, and a modern inland industry, in the Baltic Sea and its region, is coming to an end.

Therefore let’s look to the future.

Is it possible to improve the environmental condition and the fish resources by putting certain demands on the fishery products? In that case what kind of demands should it be? Which criteria are to be the basis of environmental friendly ecological fishery?

In itself the fish must be organic - today it is possible to label vegetables and chicken as organic, if the producer lives up to certain specific criteria - but is it more difficult with wild fish? Is it possible for the fisheries (here defined as a total market with all the stations that are necessary before the fish can be served - catch, distribution, control, trade, preparation, politics) to define a criteria for an environmental friendly ecological sustainable fishery!

With a total market as mentioned it might be possible and significant to define criteria for how much energy one kg of fish must contain from catch to dish. A criteria for sustainability must also contain: catching methods, distribution, knowledge of and consideration of the fish seasons, preparation, fish from other countries, and the social relations that the life as a fisherman, the life of the smaller harbours and the fishing there, and lastly the present prices that people pay for fresh fish. These are important factors for a discussion and for the future work for a larger transparency in fish trading.

An ecological fishery lives up to the objectives by:

  • Maintaining the marine environment by minimising the impact of fishing gear.
  • Minimising the catch of juveniles and other unwanted by catch.
  • Reducing fuel consumption as a percentage of catch and value.
  • Freeing the marine environment from inorganic pollution by minimising loss of fishing gear and refraining from throwing inorganic waste in the sea.
  • Providing education about marine pollution. If necessary to stop fishing in certain polluted areas
  • The development of the ecological fishery providing the background for viable fishing communities.
  • Promoting a fishery that increases the practising fisherman’s share of fish value.
  • Producing the best possible quality by careful treatment of the catch.








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