Representatives of circa forty European fishery communities from Danmark, Belgium, France and the Netherlands came together on Tuesday 25th of april in Brussels. They decided to work more closely together on files concerning mutual interests. Dutch Fishermen’s Association chairman Johan Nooitgedagt gave an impression of what’s happening.
On a beautiful evening I walked along the fishing docks, where I got into a conversation with an older fisherman. I would like to share his story with you: “I have been fishing for many years and I have always worked with great pleasure together with Mother Nature. It is, at sea, where I feel most happy. I am part of the fourth generation in a fishing family. My father never asked me if I would want to take over the company, it was a matter of course. I was 15, when I started to join him at sea. At that time, any fish caught in the net was a great blessing and this feeling of appreciation has never left me. Nowadays, when I empty my nets on the deck, I can’t help but question myself: what do I leave behind for my son?”.
He raised his voice a little and started to sound fiercer. “Today, it feels like a punishment when I catch the wrong fish. I start to lose the pleasure that my job used to bring me. Due to the discard-ban I need to keep all the fish I catch aboard, whereas in the past I always used to throw the unwanted fish back into the sea. In fact, undersized fish had to be thrown overboard, otherwise I would be penalised with a big fine. So where I previously could get a fine for keeping undersized fish aboard, I will now get fined if I throw them overboard. I need to keep these unwanted fish separately from the rest of the fish, because it only serves (as silage) to feed the animals. These fish take a lot of extra space in my fishing hold and it gives more work for my crew members and me, but in return I only receive the price for pet food as we are not allowed to sell it for human consumption. To me, this is the world upside down. For people ashore I always draw the comparison if the government would change the red traffic lights to green and vice versa – imagine what a mess it would give on the road. It would cause terrible accidents and bad injuries”.
The government would change the red traffic lights to green and vice versa
As you can imagine, I was completely caught up in the fisherman’s story. I could sense by his emotions that we were dealing with a serious problem. His eyes became red and started to get a little moist. He continued: “The fishing industry is more and more becoming a cat and mouse game. The government is controlling the sea, that damned discard-ban is disrupting all of us!”
“Also from the biological/ecological science there is no understanding at all: they say there won’t come any additional fish for extra quota. The fish stocks do not improve and it’s even worse for the environment. It’s the way nature works: “to eat, or to be eaten”. A part of the fish that is thrown overboard survives, even if this is only three out of ten, it would still be a profit. This would leave the other seven fish to be eaten by predators ranging from seabirds, crabs to other species. There is a reason that farmed fish eat three kilos of fish to develop one kilo of (fish) meat onto their own body. You could say that the livestock- or aquaculture and fishmeal industry have done strong lobby to push through the discard-ban into Brussels European Commission buildings!”
Discard-ban is bad for the profit, bad for the people and bad for the planet
“I’m telling you to keep on fighting. The discard-ban is bad for the profit, it’s bad for the people and it’s bad for the planet. Talking about the sustainable Triple P concept… What I will soon take with me as extra fish isn’t for human consumption, it’s just fodder (pet food). They want to use a part of the marine production to feed the animals. That is turning the clock backwards. My grandfather used to tell me fishmeal was used as manure to spread over the land. The discard-ban is a waste, there is no support and less monitoring so we will again give a new boost to the cat and mouse game. Together with my colleagues, I will exert myself to the utmost to reverse this regulation. I refuse to work against my nature. Do you now understand why I lost the fun in my job and why I’m worried about how I will soon introduce my company to my son, the fifth generation in my family of fishing people?”
After hearing his engaging story, I promised the fisherman one thing. I promised him that I would bring this story to the attention of all the people who can influence this matter. This is not how we can go on in this industry. That evening, the sun had already set in the sea, I walked home, but I could not get the story out of my head. It felt like the big red “play” button was stuck and the words of the fisherman repeatedly crossed my mind. With this, I went into the night and I realised that I hadn’t dreamt it, however, it could have been the perfect story line for a dark nightmare. I decided to keep my promise by writing down the dreaded story of the fisherman so that I could pass it on to as many people whom it may concern………