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Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF MARINE FISHERIES
In June 2002, the Royal Commission announced its new study into the environmental effects of marine fisheries, the serious concerns that they raise and how these might best be addressed. The study commenced in February 2003.
Fisheries are, in the view of many, one of the major causes of damage to the marine environment but the extent, and even the existence, of such damage is disputed. This is an opportune time to consider the wide environmental consequences of fisheries. We are moving from the hunter-gatherer stage of exploiting the ocean's resources towards farming the oceans. Arguably we are at much the same point with fisheries as we were with agriculture after the second world war. Technological advances and economic pressures are leading to an intensification, which has the potential to wreak as much damage on the oceans as intensive agriculture has on land over recent decades. With agriculture we asked the wrong question - how to maximise the production of food, instead of looking at the wider functions of the rural environment, with their rich inter-dependencies. We must try to ensure that the problems that could arise with intensive fisheries are foreseen, so that they can be avoided.
The Commission's study of the environmental effects of marine fisheries is being conducted in two stages: first to scope the topics to be included in the Study and second to seek evidence and reach conclusions. The scoping stage commenced in June 2002; the request for evidence was issued in February 2003.
The announcement of the study explained the background, indicated the broad topics that the Commission proposed to consider, and invited views. In addition to being posted on the website, the letter inviting the submission of information for the scoping phase of the study was sent to over one hundred organisations in June 2002. Details of the study were also publicised in a news release.
Some thirty responses were received and these inputs helped the Commission in drawing up its programme for a seminar, at which the issues could be explored in more detail.
On 4 November 2002, the Commission hosted a seminar at the University of Edinburgh to discuss wide ranging issues relevant to deciding the scope of the Fisheries Study. Speakers from a variety of backgrounds addressed such topics as: how firm is the evidence of environmental damage; is it worsening; what should be the aims of marine environmental policy; and can European waters be considered in isolation.
The lively discussion gave valuable guidance to the Commission, and pointed to a study organised on a few inter-connected lines:
The report of the seminar is available in pdf format (16pp, 176Kb).
The central aim of the Marine Fisheries Study is to seek a coherent framework within which fisheries practice can be consistent with rich and diverse marine ecosystems and with protection and appropriate enhancement of other aspects of the marine environment. All forms of fisheries will be covered, including industrial, other capture, aquaculture and fish ranching. The wider economic and social consequences of fisheries practice will be taken into account. In particular, the Commission will be looking at:
The invitation to submit evidence listed a series of issues that the Commission intends to address. These statements and questions are not intended to limit the range of study, but rather focus attention on the areas where Members believe they are most in need of input at this stage.
The invitation letter was sent to over one hundred and twenty organisations in February 2003. The Commission would also welcome evidence from any other interested organisation or individual. The deadline for submitting evidence was 30 May 2003.
Some twenty-five responses were received and these inputs have helped the Commission in deciding which issues would be explored in more detail in the report. In addition, the Commission received oral evidence from a number of organisations and consulted with a number of of individuals. During the course of the study, Members of the Commission and its Secretariat made a series of visits to relevant organisations and countries, including:
The following papers were commissioned in the course of the study:
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