Small fishers join UK Greenpeace campaign declaring “fishing emergency”

Published on
September 27, 2021
A small fishing vessel sails past United Kingdom parliament in protest a perceived lack of action by the government against large-scale fishing vessels.

A new campaign launched by Greenpeace in the United Kingdom is calling for “urgent measures to protect fishing communities and our oceans.”

The effort has been joined by several inshore fishing groups and associations, along with the New Economics Foundation, Angling Trust, and direct-to-consumer businesses Sole of Discretion and Pesky Fish.

A joint statement was signed and delivered recently to the U.K. government, declaring a “fishing emergency” and asking for permanent bans on supertrawlers, bottom-trawlers, and fly-shooters in all marine protected areas more than 12 nautical miles from the coast in the English Channel; in addition to a ban on pelagic trawlers over 55 meters and fly-shooters in the English Channel and Southern North Sea. 

The aim of such measures, the statement said, is to boost catches for local fishers, revive coastal communities, and provide space for marine ecosystems and fish populations to recover from “years of devastation by industrial fishing.”

“The U.K. government needs to deliver on its Brexit promise to level up ocean protection. This would be a vital step towards the target of protecting 30 percent of the U.K.’s and the world’s oceans by 2030,” Greenpeace U.K. Oceans Campaigner Chris Thorne said in a release.

The statement comes amid a six-month operation by Greenpeace, which is patrolling the UK’s protected areas off the south coast in a bid to shield marine protected areas from what it terms "destructive fishing."

Greenpeace said "supertrawlers, all of which are E.U. owned, spend thousands of hours fishing in U.K. waters annually, including in marine protected areas.” The organization claims the E.U.'s supertrawler fishing effort in U.K. marine protected areas increased by 1,000 percent between 2017 and 2020, and that industrial fly-shooters began focusing operations on U.K. waters off the south and east coasts following an electric pulse trawling ban earlier this year.

Fly-shooters, also called Danish or Scottish seiners, tow lead-weighted ropes along the seabed at either end of a net that encircles and captures entire shoals of fish.

“Fly-shooting is a highly-efficient industrial fishing method with immense catching capacity, which poses a threat to fish populations and the seabed,” Greenpeace said.

On 22 September, a group of small-scale fishermen and fishing representatives sailed up the River Thames past the Houses of Parliament and unfurled banners on Westminster Bridge – which overlooks parliament – to protest against the government’s perceived lack of action.

“Our push for bans on supertrawlers and fly-fishers are falling on deaf ears; 75 fly-fishers have been licensed or permitted to fish in our waters without an impact assessment being done and this has a huge impact on our small fleet. So many of our fishermen are struggling to find enough fish or are going out of business, and we have to do more to save them,” Sarah Ready of the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association told SeafoodSource. “The government’s response was to release a statement saying that they would continue looking into the matter, but it was vague and gave no firm commitment.”

Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association President Gerard van Balsfoort defended his industry, telling SeafoodSource of his concern that inaccurate and scientifically unsupported information about his members’ fishing operations could unduly influence fisheries management decisions.

PFA members include Cornelis Vrolijk, France Pelagique, Interfish, Jaczon, Parlevliet & Van der Plas, and Lithuania's UAB Atlantic High Seas Fishing Company, which are some of Europe's largest pelagic companies. The fish the companies catch provide food security to millions of consumers in European markets and especially to developing countries in Sub-Sahara Africa, who rely on the high-protein fish, van Balsfoort said.

“Members of the PFA fish only for human consumption in a clean, sustainable, and responsible manner. They operate pelagic freezer-trawlers outside the coastal areas and target pelagic species such as herring, mackerel, horse mackerel, and blue whiting, which do not live in or dwell close to the seabed,” van Balsfoort said. “These pelagic fish form shoals that live and migrate in the water column. In short, pelagic fishing gear does not interact with seabed habitats and therefore does not damage protected seabed habitat features.”

Van Balsfoort said the term “supertrawler” is a misnomer that suggests disproportionate catching power, but the size of a pelagic freezer-trawler is linked to its processing capacity. Catches are based on scientifically derived total allowable catches and strictly allocated quota, and vessels are regularly checked by the U.K. and E.U. at sea and in harbor to check compliance.

“Our vessels range from 50 meters to over 100 meters in length and combine catching, sorting, freezing, packaging, and storage of pelagic fish in one hull. They are roughly 25 percent trawler and 75 percent fish processing factory and cold storage vessels,” he said.  

Van Balsfoort said he rejected the idea that members’ pelagic fishing operations are in direct conflict with small-scale fishermen in the Channel area and the Southern North Sea, explaining that their vessels target different stocks, in different fishing grounds, for different markets.  

“Pelagic fish have low market prices and therefore need to be harvested at scale to make the business viable. Local small-scale fishermen in the Channel and Southern North Sea target high value quota and non-quota species for the fresh market in the U.K. and E.U.,” he said.  

Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

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