Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Luddites Lament

If, contrary to all modern trends, we were to adopt the opening stance that the profits of the ‘fruits de mer’ should be distributed as widely as to afford its ‘fruit pickers’ a fair living – we might chose to distribute that wealth through the medium of jobs, such that we would look to marine management systems that delivered the maximum sustainable employment, as well as the maximum sustainable yield.

Unfortunately, the unstoppable march of the machine has produced such hi-tech vessels, capable of gargantuan catches with just a hand full of operators, that even these jobs are vulnerable as their catching efficiency threatens the long-term viability of the stocks. These vessels are far beyond the means of mere mortals, so behind their helms sits a bevy of bankers looking for a quick return on their investors money, with little concern for maximum sustainable yields, and even less for maximum sustainable employment.

In search of a management regime that could protect jobs as well as stock, I have long been intrigued by the luddite tendencies of the Port of Truro oyster fisheries, where dredging is only allowed under sail. Could such draconian management systems protect stock levels, maximise employment potential, as well as providing a spin off benefit to the tourist industry? Perhaps there could be long line fisheries from rowing boats, lobster fisheries where only hand hauled pots were allowed, or shallow scallop grounds restricted to free diving? Or maybe we should consider the electronic fishing aids - how about banning ‘fish-finders’ from pelagic fisheries?

Such artificial measures applied across the market place might be able to increase the market price and hence the profitability and employment potential of a fisheries sector, though such a system would seem more suited to the un-mechanised fisheries of the developing world. It may be unrealistic to think that such restricted fisheries could ever be economically viable in competition with more mechanised fisheries, however, with low licence costs, low initial investment (no banker cut), limited competition, increased stocks and specialised niche marketing -perhaps such fisheries management systems could prove to be profitable and even find a toe hold in our ‘winner takes all’ system.

Posted: Owen Kilbride, H2 Marine Resources

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