Blue Desert

– George Monbiot, always one of my favorite writers, writes here on the Fishing Industry.   Just one small piece in the large gathering Perfect Storm, this industry is a perfect microcosm of the macrocosm.  At all levels, there is a war between the competing drives towards short-term profits and long-term sustainability.

– In a very real way, how this contest turns out in all the micro and macrocosms will be a succinct measure of our intelligence as a species.   And I think, to the objective observer, the outcome is not looking good.

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By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 2nd June 2009

I live a few miles from Cardigan Bay. Whenever I can get away, I take my kayak down to the beach and launch it through the waves. Often I take a handline with me, in the hope of catching some mackeral or pollock. On the water, sometimes five kilometres from the coast, surrounded by gannets and shearwaters, I feel closer to nature than at any other time.

Last year I was returning to shore through a lumpy sea. I was 200 metres from the beach and beginning to worry about the size of the breakers when I heard a great whoosh behind me. Sure that a wave was about to crash over my head, I ducked. But nothing happened. I turned round. Right under my paddle a hooked grey fin emerged. It disappeared. A moment later a bull bottlenose dolphin exploded from the water, almost over my head. As he curved through the air, we made eye contact. If there is one image that will stay with me for the rest of my life, it is of that sleek gentle monster, watching me with his wise little eye as he flew past my head. I have never experienced a greater thrill, even when I first saw an osprey flying up the Dyfi estuary with a flounder in its talons.

The Cardigan Bay dolphins are one of the only two substantial resident populations left in British seas. It is partly for their sake that most of the coastal waters of the bay are classified as special areas of conservation (SACs). This grants them the strictest protection available under EU law. The purpose of SACs is to prevent “the deterioration of natural habitats … as well as disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated”(1).

That looks pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? The bay is strictly protected. It can’t be damaged, and the dolphins and other rare marine life can’t be disturbed. So why the heck has a fleet of scallop dredgers been allowed to rip it to pieces?

Until this Sunday, when the season closed, 45 boats were raking the bay, including places within the SACs, with steel hooks and chain mats. The dredges destroy everything: all the sessile life of the seabed, the fish that take refuge in the sand; the spawn they lay there, reefs, boulder fields, marine archaeology – any feature that harbours life. In some cases they penetrate the seafloor to a depth of three feet. It is ploughed, levelled and reduced to desert. It will take at least 30 years for parts of the ecosystem to recover; but the structure of the seabed is destroyed forever. The noise of the dredges pounding and grinding over the stones could scarcely be better calculated to disturb the dolphins.

The boats are not resident here. They move around the coastline trashing one habitat after another. They will fish until there is nothing left to destroy then move to the next functioning ecosystem. If, in a few decades, the scallops here recover, they’ll return to tear this place up again.

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