The Fishing Wars in Western Europe

Marine Conservation Society

There have been times when certain fish have been pushed to the edge of extinction. There has always been a continuing battle in Western Europe for the best fishing grounds, with fishing fleets more than happy to travel far distances in order to catch the greatest numbers of fish.

This coupled with improved technology making it easier for the fish to be located and caught, has meant that the popular species of fish have suffered from reduced stocks. There have been many instances when governments have used boats to chase foreign vessels from their waters and numerous international treaties have been agreed in trying to control their numbers.

A conflict in Icelandic waters over fishing for cod

One of the most common fish that has suffered has been the cod. The fish used to be in great supply in numbers in the north-west of Europe and became part of the staple diet in countries such as the United Kingdom. The country’s fish and chip shops used to be dominated by the sales of cod and thousands of jobs were dependent on the sales of the fish.

The battle to keep people employed in the fishing industry led to British boats travelling further afield and eventually straying into Icelandic waters. Twice in 1958 and 1982 the two country’s came to conflict and as a result of international agreements both times Iceland had the better of the disagreements.

Sometimes shortages of certain fish is nothing to do with overfishing but the industrial activities of man. For years, salmon used to populate certain rivers in Britain but as the water quality started to deteriorate as a result of industrial activity, the fish started to disappear.

As deindustrialization has taken place, water quality has improved. This has resulted in salmon again returning to the rivers they once freely populated. However, the demand for salmon has now reached an all-time high and this has resulted in salmon farms being created.

A Salmon Farm Scotland

Many have appeared in Scotland providing huge numbers of fish for both international and domestic markets. There has been recent controversy about the health of the fish from farming and many people prefer fish that have been caught in the wild.

The stocks of fish are so threatened in the North Sea that the Marine Conservation Society have a recommended green list of fish that are safe to eat. In 2017 this led to great controversy when the haddock was taken off the list.

By taking a fish off the list has an enormous effect on demand for it. Many people will only eat fish on the list as it satisfies their conscience and so if a fish disappears from it they will assume that it is now out of danger of becoming extinct so that they will no longer eat it.

With many fishermen specializing in catching haddock, this drop in demand can have a negative on their livelihood. They will know where to fish for the haddock but they may not be as skilled in locating other fish. However, it would appear that many fish are likely to come onto and out of the green list as their numbers vary over time.