For years European Union fishermen have seen a reduction in their fishing quotas. This is meant to keep the maritime species from dying out. Recently the situation has seen a slight improvement and the numbers of some species in European waters are stabilising. On Wednesday, the EU’s Executive Committee announced its recommended quotas for next year. The quotas will again be lowered and fewer fish will be caught than in previous years. The European fishing quotas are determined on the basis of advice given by various experts, including Dutch biologists, and the IMARES research institute which specialises in marine ecology research.
Two biologists are on their hands and knees on the deck of a ship sailing the Wadden Sea. They are searching for fish such as plaice, sole, whiting, crabs and shrimp – sometimes they even find a jellyfish. The boats fish at different spots during the day. According to Marcel de Vries of IMARES:
“Each year we fish at 130 fixed locations. We return every year and we compare what we find and what we caught in previous years.”
At every spot an enormous fishing net splashes into the sea, where it remains for 15 minutes. Sometimes the net is full of junk; other times it is teeming with fish.
Plaice and sole
Plaice and sole are the most important species in the Dutch fishing trade, which is why the study placed special emphasis on the two flatfish. Biologist Loes Bolle says the fishing expeditions are only a minor part of the extensive research which determines European Union advisory policies.
“We count fish in all Dutch waters, but the same happens in Germany, Belgium, England and Denmark. We also estimate how many fish are caught by fishermen. We combine the statistics in an attempt to determine how many fish can be caught without threatening the species’ survival.”
After the fish are counted on the Wadden Sea, each one is measured to determine the proportion of smaller and younger fish, or young and old.
In the course of the day the scientists spend many hours on their knees, counting and measuring hundreds of plaice and sole. But the work seems thankless, since the politicians will probably ignore their advice. Biologist Loes Bolle says they are more concerned about protecting the economic interests of the fishing industry, which means they’ll often allow an increase in the quotas.
“We give biologically responsible advice, in other words, we do our best to recommend how fish can be caught in a sustainable manner. We are attempting to help fishermen keep the population at a viable level so that the species can survive. The best course of action would be to ban fishing for the time being, but that is not realistic. We do our best to ensure that enough fish will survive so that the species do not become extinct. This will also guarantee that fishing does not become extinct.”
Biologists are recommending a reduction in the quota for plaice and sole in 2008. It’s now the politicians’ turn, beginning with the European Commission.