Fishermen today have to work many times harder than 100 years ago to catch the same number of fish
According to the United Nations, more than half of the world’s fisheries are being exploited either at or beyond their limit and another third are significantly depleted. This has been brought about by developments in fishing technology and by the enormous demand for fish to eat.
New technologies have allowed trawlers to travel further, to keep their fish fresh longer, to locate fish more easily using sophisticated computer tracking, and to catch fish in much larger quantities.
Despite better technology, UK fishing trawlers only bring in half the amount of fish they did a century ago because of reduced stocks and limits on fish catches. To try and reduce overfishing, particularly of popular fish like cod and haddock, the EU has introduced fishing quotas.
The quotas specify the total weight that can be caught for each type of fish and limit the numbers of days on which fishing is allowed. They also set a size limit (age) of fish that can be caught. So, the fishermen measure all of the fish they catch and throw back those that are too young. Unfortunately, not all fish survive this process. They also throw back any types of fish for which they have already met their quota.
The quotas are having an effect, but not as much as was hoped. The decline in fish catches means that the cost of buying fish has risen. Despite this increase in market price, quotas and tougher conditions have led many fishermen to look for other work. In 1997 there were approximately 18,000 British fishermen. Now, that number has dropped by a third and continues to fall.
With fewer fish being caught in UK waters fish imports have increased, mostly from Iceland, Norway and Denmark. Scottish shellfish is a particularly interesting example of the oddities of the import and export trade. Scottish prawns are some of the best and most abundant in the world, yet instead of keeping them here, they are exported to southern Europe. We, in turn, import the majority of our prawns from farms in Bangladesh.