In Ros's new role as Chair of a sub-committee of the EU Select Committee, she is heading up an enquiry into the new Common Fisheries Policy, and I wondered out loud as to whether or not meeting some fishermen might not be interesting and informative. After all, Lowestoft isn't that far from home, and I'd never been. Ros agreed, and a meeting with the Lowestoft Fish Producers' Organisation was arranged.
The sun was shining as we headed for the coast, and we arrived in good time to meet the Chief Executive and the Chair at their office, filled with pictures of trawlers and of the port in its heyday. Then, the dock was crammed tight with fishing smacks, and fresh fish was distributed far and wide from the railway depot across the street. Now, sadly, there are just a dozen or so trawlers using Lowestoft as a base.
A number of local fishermen had come to meet Ros, who was keen to talk to them about the impact of the proposed discard ban. The more we talked, the more it became apparent that the mechanics of combining a discard ban with quotas are potentially very difficult, and that for smaller vessels, matters could be very tricky indeed. The science of fish survivability rates remains uncertain too, as factors such as technique used, water depth and air temperature all impact.
There was talk of spurdogs (spiny dogfish), which cannot be landed, but are very difficult to safely return to the sea alive, and the problems caused by bans on the catching of some types of skate but not others. It began to feel as though, in an attempt to address the problems created by huge seaborne fish processing factories, the European Union and the member states are applying an inflexible regime.
And yet, small trawlers offer relatively high levels of sustainability and low levels of discards, something to be encouraged, not buried in regulation and hedged in by unnecessary restrictions. In ensuring the survival and regeneration of fish stocks, we risk killing off an industry as a by-product.
All in all, it was a very enlightening meeting with a group of people I might never have met otherwise, on a subject I knew virtually nothing about previously. It does make me think that supporting a local industry by buying fish from local suppliers is worthwhile, and encouraging supermarkets to do the same might help. But, most of all, designing a fisheries policy towards sustainability of both fish stocks and local, small vessel, fishing fleets, might be the greatest thing of all.