How “small fry” die outThe threat posed by industrial fishery to the livelihoods of artisanal fishermen is not just a developing-country phenomenon. In many industrialized countries, too, smaller family-run fishing businesses have had to give up. In many cases, no successors could be persuaded to take on this hard work. Small businesses were also squeezed by rising fuel costs, so that fishery was often taken over by larger and more efficient operations. Off the east coast of Canada, the overfishing of cod was to blame for driving hundreds of small family businesses into closure in the early 1990s. Coastal fishermen had long warned that fish were becoming scarcer, in Canadian ocean bays for instance. Nevertheless, the large companies with their industrial trawlers continued to fish further out at sea. Their argument was that coastal fish and the offshore fish stocks had nothing to do with each other.
- 2.5 > Europe, the USA and Japan are the most important importers of fish and fishery products worldwide. China is the main exporter. Norway’s position as the second largest exporter is primarily because the country exports especially valuable fish such as salmon.
- Today we know that this argument was based on false assumptions. In reality they all belonged to a single, large fish population, which was finally definitively overfished at the end of the 1980s. The coastal fishermen lost their livelihoods. Some switched to lobster fishing. Unknown numbers were uprooted and moved away. As a consequence of this rural exodus, the population slumped dramatically in many places along Canada’s east coast. The situation of herring fishers on the North Sea was similar. In the 1970s, officials reacted to the collapse of the stock with a fishing ban lasting several years. This enabled herring stocks to recover, but many family businesses did not survive the enforced interruption. Today that fishery is dominated by a few large companies. In order to avoid such drastic consequences for the people affected, social scientists are urging that more attention be given to sociological aspects in fishery management, rather than concentrating solely on the conservation of fish stocks and the marine environment. They criticize the way that so far, experts from the different disciplines – biology, economics and sociology – seem to collaborate far too seldom. Of course, the sociological approach is labour-intensive and costly, say researchers, because it requires field researchers to travel to coastal regions in order to interview the people affected, the fishermen, in situ and to analyse their situation. Yet this could avert future problems or help to solve them more quickly.
- 2.6 > For many developing countries, fish exports are more important than the coffee and cocoa trade.
The responsibility of industrialized countriesIn recent years, jobs in fisheries in the European countries have undergone varying degrees of decline. Particularly because there is a shortage of alternative jobs, nations like Portugal and Spain continue to maintain large fishing fleets, often kept alive by state subsidies. Denmark and Germany, on the other hand, have drastically reduced the size of their fleets. In these countries the demand for fish, which has risen in recent years, is increasingly met by means of imports. Today Europe is the world’s most important fish-importing region but the demand for fish varies enormously from one country to another. In 2010 Europe imported fish to the value of 44.6 billion US dollars, around 40 per cent of the worldwide trading volume. The second largest importer is the USA, with Japan in third place. Hence a special role falls to these three regions in the conservation of global fish stocks: consumers in these industrialized countries should make a stand and demand more produce from sustainable fisheries and environmentally sound aquaculture. For wholesale purchasers, in turn, labour conditions in the countries of production are beginning to matter more when they choose their suppliers. Workers in developing and newly-industrializing countries are still often underpaid and receive no social security benefits. Moreover, child labour is often used in these countries, according to FAO data. Children are put to work particularly in artisanal fishery and small family businesses, but it happens on board ships as well. They are also being used as cheap labour to repair nets, to sell fish or to feed and harvest farmed fish. All these problems have now been recognized. It is to be hoped that the first projects and initiatives currently being embarked upon as good examples will set a precedent for the future.