Supertrawlers’ impact on our seas: Ecologically and socially intolerable

THERE are very few areas where the sobering truth — “the monkey with the biggest stick? He gets all the coconuts” — cuts as deeply as it does in how our natural resources are exploited. 

Or, dare it be said, shared. The story of how Ireland’s gas and oil resources were signed away is a sad, shameful, and sinister one. That national capitulation — betrayal is not too strong a word — does not bear scrutiny. We can only look with envy at how Norway, albeit a country offering far lower-risk exploration opportunities, used their bounty to build enviable services and genuine opportunity. Despite those moderate people-before-profit demands the Norwegian gas and oil fields generated billions for those able to invest in the adventure — there was enough for everyone.

One of the take-home lessons from that scandal is that any entity established to manage Irish water resources must be, by referendum if necessary, secured permanently in public ownership. Any alternative would be dangerously naive.

The winner-takes-all principle has been extended to the European Union’s fishery policies — and, unfortunately, policing. The seas off Ireland, and elsewhere, are being ravaged by supertrawlers. These mega hoovers seem almost beyond the control of any government. Naturally, the corporate owners insist they operate within the law. That may be the case but it is more than galling for Ireland’s confined-to-port trawlermen to watch these gigantic ships strip waters Irish boats can no longer fish because of quota limits.

The environmental carnage is as spectacular as it is unacceptable. Think of an attack on a cornered herd of deer with a helicopter gunship and you’ll have an idea of the imbalance between technology and nature. Theses are sea-going factories rather than anything we recognise as a trawler. The biggest — formerly the Irish-owned Atlantic Dawn now the Annelies Ilena — is longer than Croke Park and can process an utterly unsustainable 250 tonnes of fish every single day.

The social consequences are as unacceptable. Not so long ago ocean communities survived through relatively modest harvests but now the seas’ riches are concentrated in ever fewer hands. Arguments around quota limits applying to these monsters seem as implausible as the arguments used to defend our capitulation on Ireland’s oil and gas. That this plundering is conducted by an industry in the spotlight for the illegal exploitation of migrant workers adds to the outrage. That Australia once banned them from their national waters is another warning that should not be ignored.

All around the world electorates are rejecting the establishment that has not understood or protected their interests. Those protests wear many faces, everything from Brexit to Trump, to the victorious pipeline protests at Standing Rock in Dakota. There is a growing and justified determination to reject the excesses of capitalism and the kind of cold corporatism that closes viable pension schemes to enhance a balance sheet. Efforts, belated as they may be, to protect our seas and rejuvenate the coastal communities that depend on them, as well as a more equitable distribution of the bounty our oceans offer, can only add to that empowering momentum.


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