This would be the headline if Greenpeace, WWF or the Environmental Investigating Agency staged violent riots in Brussels. Truth is that these NGOs have not been doing so. Fishermen however have. And the media doesn't seem to be too snappy on getting that new image of the modern fisherman out, with for example Agency France Press using the extremely neutral "European fishermen protest in Brussels" to illustrate an article on rioting. Lately we've seen a growing tension among European fishermen. The aggressive protests of today (resulting in a fair bit of property damage) are just the latest examples of what seems to be a trend towards confrontational actions.
The main argument of the fishermen is that current fuel prices are the basis of their problems. And there's no denial: if they want to keep running business as usual the price of fuel is a problem for many. However, I strongly believe that after opportunistically ignoring all economic and environmental alarms bells for decades this should not be a reason for our governments to simply give -as subsidy, tax incentives or whatever- them money incentives. Mainly because it will just fast-forward the problem. Fast-forwarding so the next generation of politicians can deal with an even bigger problem... The real problem is not today's high fuel prices. The main problem is an outdated industry model.
Like every singly other fleet the European one has a grand overcapacity. With half the ships and fishermen we could catch a similar amount of fish and significantly lower the amount of fuel used. This is not something new at all. Fishermen have know this for years, and everyone who has build a ship in the past decade knew it would be launched in a difficult market. Member states knew this as well, yet still decided to subsidize this shipbuilding. Big shame to opportunistic populist politicians. The burden should be fully with the fishermen themselves though; in private enterprise you should be lucky to get some subsidy, not base your business upon it and ask for even more in poor times after you have profited in good times. And good times the fishing industry has had for decades; even today many fishermen have above average incomes.
Energy intensive fishing methods
North Sea bottom trawling anyone? Using four litres of a oil just to haul one kilo of fish aboard. Over the past years -and after mocking / blocking all attempts before- some fisherman are finally getting the message and have started looking for energy efficient fishing methods / gear. Electric pulse fishing is one of these new methods. North Sea bottom trawling is just one of the examples.
The price of fish
Like everything else fish is a commodity. Yet even though we have TACs and quotas the price of fish all along the supply chain is artificially low. E.g. it does not reflect the real costs. This is something not necessarily caused at the bottom of the supply chain (e.g. the fishermen) but it definitely fuels their problem. And here we arrive at the base of the problem. If fishermen don't even earn enough money to pay their fuel bills their product is obviously worth more than they now get for it at the auctions. Thus they should ask more for their fish from the market, not ask for subsidies paid by the European taxpayer. If no-one wants to give you more it is time to realise your business model is outdated.
While I do feel sorry for any individual who loses his job or part of his income I do welcome Europe's fishermen to the real world; one of true private enterprise. (they used to be proud of this, the only truly free man being a Fisherman..) For decades the industry has been profiting from the huge subsidies and advantages given by member states. In fact much of it still does. In return all they had to do was to provide us with that Fisherman's Friend image of the lonely fisherman out at night, battling the stormy sea. No one ever asked them to actually pay something for the right to gain profit from our common fish resources, to fish in what could in many ways be considered a highly unsustainable free for all, owned by all.
I have no problems with the practise of commercial fishing, mari-culture, seaweed harvesting and whatever else one can think of. In fact I'm eating a spicy stew -slightly overcooked- with Dutch mussels right now. I do however have big problems with the fishing industry in its current state; an industry formed on the basis of a big, bigger, best. An industry highly skilled in ignoring the problems it is facing right up to the moment it starts to affect profits.
Maybe this is the time to start working on some real changes for once? A proper restructuring of the fleets, science based TACs, sustainable stewardship, more control over illegal activities and, eventually, more realistic prices for fish.