Magazine article The Spectator

Dire Situation

Magazine article The Spectator

Dire Situation

Article excerpt

I once found myself talking to this quasilegendary hack who has covered many of the big events of the last 50 years and met a good many of the world's most important figures. `So who's the biggest c-t you've ever met?' I asked him. He furrowed his brow for a few seconds and then replied with conviction: `Ted Heath.' Given the selection of possible candidates - Pol Pot? Ayatollah Khomeini? - I did wonder whether perhaps this verdict wasn't a little harsh. But I don't any longer. Not after having been reminded by last week's The Money Programme (BBC 2, Wednesday) Goodbye Fish And Chips - of the starring role he played in one of the greatest ecological disasters of our time: the virtual eradication of white fish stocks off British coastal waters.

Some of you will be aware of this problem already. But the situation is so urgent and dire that I don't think it can be reported often enough. The fact is that unless very drastic action is taken very soon to stop overfishing, there will be no more cod (or haddock or monkfish) left anywhere from the North Sea to the Irish Box and much of the Atlantic. And if this sounds like exaggeration, you only have to look at Canada. Commercial cod-fishing has been banned there for over a decade now, yet still its cod show no sign of returning. Some scientists believe they never will.

All right, so Ted Heath - truly a Torrey Canyon among prime ministerial disasters - didn't kill all these fish personally. But he did negotiate our `at any cost' entry in Europe by meekly handing it all our shipping grounds. At which point, of course, his beloved Europe went on to deliver the coup de gr&ce by allocating and administering its fishing quotas with such sublime cynicism, corruption and incompetence that today barely an edible fish survives anywhere within its jurisdiction.

If only we had followed the example of Iceland, instead. There, having won the cod war in the early Seventies, the government chose to take its scientists' doomsday predictions seriously and introduced the strict measures which explain why Iceland still has a healthy, sustainable supply of fish. It was one of those rare occasions where one felt truly grateful to have been beaten in a war.

Now, you would have thought that if ever there was opportunity for the EU to justify its miserable, squalid existence, this would be it. Here we have an imminent ecological disaster of catastrophic proportions. Here too we have an organisation with the money and power to stop it. The EU could, if it wanted, close down the fisheries and compensate (or retrain) the fishermen until such time as fish stocks recover. …

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