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The Precautionary Principle

Aug 03,2006 Malcolm Gilbert

Remember the concept that went something like "the absence of absolute scientific evidence should not be used to prevent action to control exploitation where anecdotal evidence exists to raise doubts as to the sustainability etc., etc."?

The fishing industry do not like this interpretation.

As a result the "precautionary principle" is being re-interpreted!

Take a look at an article written by Dr. Joe Horwood (I think its Pawson's boss). http://www.cefas.co.uk/fisheries/precapproach.htm

According to my understanding, the North Sea cod is shot to pieces.

ICES have recommended a TAC reduction of 40/60% for 2000.

An article by four CEFAS scientists in Nature says: "Nowadays the catch is mainly fish that are younger than three years old, most of which are immature. The 1996 year class was the strongest for over a decade but, at the present high exploitation rate of young cod, few individuals have survived to reach sexual maturity. The 1997 & 1998 year classes have been the poorest on record."

Horwood's article asks 'what is the precautionary approach?'

His answer DOES NOT INCLUDE the piece at the beginning of this article.

Furthermore, the Red danger signal, which is now the trigger regarded as the level below which the stocks must never fall, is 70000 tonnes.

Where may you ask does this figure come from?

It happens to be the 'lowest level of the North Sea cod stock biomass' that has ever been recorded! AND THIS IS THE PRECAUTIONARY APPROACH!

Let us look at the EC Biodiversity Strategy and the Fisheries Action Plan.

In Feb. 1998 the Commission adopted a Communication to the Council and the Parliament on a European Community Biodiversity Strategy. The Communication was endorsed by the Council in Feb. and by the Parliament in Oct. 1998. The fisheries sector is particularly subject to this requirement.

The concept of biodiversity.

The simplest measure of biodiversity is the number of species in an ecosystem.

However, biodiversity cannot be restricted solely to a species concept but also has to encompass:

Size/age structure of the species
Reproductive quality of the species
Genetic variability of species
Diversity of ecosystem

In the light of the contents of the Offshore Pilot study report which stated that " large adults were uncommon in the catches which comprised mainly small adults, probably spawning for the first or second time." and "the bulk of the offshore catch was between 40-60 cm total length, with very few larger fish" and the verbal assurances that the age structure of the 2000 fishery (much reduced) were similar to 1999. HOW CAN THIS FISHERY BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE?

A personal opinion

It is allowed to continue because the only absolute science which CEFAS and/or MAFF accept as sufficient evidence to take action is when the stocks collapse.

This is why almost all stocks are in deep trouble. All the rhetoric about sustainable use, precautionary principle, biodiversity - despite being well understood and in the rule book is worth nothing whilst the Industry are able to exert their total control on the situation.

Malcolm Gilbert.


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