Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looking behind the labels

"It is a paradox that on any set of indices, fishing, although certainly not without its environmental consequences, has a much lower environmental impact than any other form of food production. It is important that this is understood not as an excuse for doing nothing but to introduce a sense of proportion into what has often been a one-sided debate".

This quotation is taken from a draft paper of the North Western Waters Regional Advisory Committee which will shortly be submitted to the European Commission, entitled "Advice on the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy". Regardless of whether this comment can be justified or not, it flags an issue that I have heard raised over and over in conversations with fishing industry representatives and fishermen themselves - that they are now labelled by many as plunderers of the ocean, whereas previously they were seen, and appreciated, as providers of food. It is the attachment of labels to people and groups of people that interests me, and the reactions that such labelling provokes. For example, tarring the fishing industry with the brush of plunderer encourages the industry in turn to label the labellers as "anti-fishing". And from there, the debate can so easily spiral out of proportion, another point raised in the quotation above. The question is whether, and how, it is possible for the relevant parties to look behind the labels, those applied to them and those that they have applied to others, sometimes unwittingly.

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