MacPhail

The Oban Times - - Letters - AN­GUS MACPHAIL an­gus­macphail@ya­hoo.co.uk

WE MUST be care­ful in our in­ter­pre­ta­tion of me­dia flur­ries and head­lines but, from re­cent re­ports, it at least shows the pos­si­bil­ity that the Bri­tish fish­ing in­dus­try will, as pre­dicted by many, once again be used as a valu­able but dis­pens­able bank of bar­gain­ing chips for the gov­ern­ment in the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

It also brings to mind just how un­der­val­ued that in­dus­try has be­come over the past num­ber of decades. Once a proud in­dus­try that was revered by the pop­u­la­tion of these shores as a provider of food, jobs, eco­nomic pros­per­ity and food se­cu­rity, it is now a shadow of its for­mer self. The in­dus­try has both shrunk greatly in size and been re­duced still fur­ther in the es­teem in which it is held by the gen­eral pub­lic.

There are var­ied, com­plex and nu­mer­ous con­trib­u­tory fac­tors that have led to this de­cline and the road to re­vers­ing it is not on the cur­rent hori­zon. The Com­mon Fish­eries Pol­icy (CFP) and the agree­ments re­lat­ing to it reached by politi­cians and in­flicted on the UK fleet have done prob­a­bly more dam­age than any other sin­gle fac­tor.

Be­fore be­ing ac­cused of be­ing an­tiEU, I would state that I see this not as a prob­lem with the Euro­pean Union, but with the deal-mak­ing by politi­cians of all colours over many years who have treated the fish­ing in­dus­try as both sec­ondary and as Prime Min­is­ter Ted Heath re­port­edly said ‘ex­pend­able’ com­pared to other sec­tors while at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

I sym­pa­thise with those in the in­dus­try who cam­paigned to leave the EU in the hope of ex­tract­ing the Bri­tish fleet from the clutches of the CFP. This may well be fruit­ful, but the worry – as ac­cen­tu­ated in the head­lines of last week – is that his­tory may re­peat it­self. The in­dus­try was sold down the river on the way into the EU and it may well be again on the way out.

As well as the Euro­pean-re­lated prob­lems, there is do­mes­tic mis­man­age­ment, counter-pro­duc­tive reg­u­la­tion – in­clud­ing a mon­e­tised quota sys­tem that means you would need to be richer than War­ren Buf­fett to be able to af­ford to en­ter into and op­er­ate in some sec­tors. Add to this the in­creas­ingly ridicu­lous por­trayal of fish­er­men as planet-pil­lag­ing, eco-thiefs greed­ily de­stroy­ing the oceans for per­sonal gain and you have a recipe for the cur­rent state of af­fairs. With a swarm of celebrity chefs con­vinc­ing us that it would be more eth­i­cally ac­cept­able to eat a puppy than a North Sea cod, it is no ac­ci­dent that the pub­lic are be­com­ing less sup­port­ive of the in­dus­try.

There is no doubt that over­fish­ing has played its part in some ar­eas at cer­tain times, but this could have been pre-empted and dealt with much more ef­fec­tively by bet­ter man­age­ment.

The fall of the hum­ble her­ring in this part of the world is a multi-faceted tale of tragedy. When I was in Poland for a few days last week­end, I was struck by how preva­lent it still is in the diet there. In restau­rants, on trains, in su­per­mar­kets and in the hearts of the peo­ple, her­ring is held high as a sta­ple of their healthy diet.

For a fish that was once such a ma­jor pres­ence in the lives of those on the West Coast, it was strik­ing to be re­minded of the lack of it nowa­days. Shoals of her­ring once sus­tained a peo­ple, served as sgadan ùr (fresh her­ring) in sum­mer, on its own or coated in oat­meal and, through the rest of the year, pick­led or, the most com­mon of all, as salt her­ring with pota­toes. Nowa­days, land­ing a box of heroin on the Rail­way Pier at Oban would be seen as less of a crime by the au­thor­i­ties than land­ing a box of her­ring with­out the cor­rect quota.

I don’t have the an­swers as to how to un­ravel the tan­gled mess that the in­dus­try is in but what will def­i­nitely make a dif­fer­ence is sup­port from the rest of the pop­u­la­tion.

Around our shores is landed some of the health­i­est, tasti­est, most nu­tri­tious, eco-friendly and sus­tain­able food on the planet. Just by eat­ing these mouth-wa­ter­ing fruits of the sea and show­ing sup­port for those who catch it, we can all help the con­tin­ued sur­vival of this great and no­ble en­ter­prise.

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