Teach a Trawler to Fish

There is a must-read series in the New York Times this week about the consequences of European Union–sponsored overfishing. (It’s the rare environmental area in which the EU lags behind America.) The first story tackles the notorious problem of the EU buying up fishing rights from coastal African countries, after which the European fleets, through sheer trawling might, empty out their waters. African governments have leaped, and are still leaping, at the money, but local fishermen have looked on in horror; their more small-scale practices were far more sustainable, needless to say. Now the Times says that the empty seas in northwest Africa are what’s behind increased, and desperate, illegal immigration: Last year, 6,000 migrants died or disappeared trying to reach the Canary Islands, “a prime transit point to Europe,” according to the Times.

A follow-up story addresses the consumption side: Europe is now “the world’s largest market for fish,” worth about $22 billion a year. Approximately half of the fish sold in the EU is reportedly caught in the waters of developing nations. Those EU-subsidized deals are at least legal: Much of the rest “is laundered like contraband, caught and shipped illegally beyond the limits of government quotas or treaties.” The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that every other fish sold in Europe is “illegally caught or imported.” There are so many middlemen, and boats stay at sea for so long, that tracing the fish is “nearly impossible.”

And fishmongers say they’d rather sell the fish than see it rot. As Samuel Fromartz notes about the Times series on Chews Wise, Charles Clover’s essential book on overfishing, The End of the Line, is the go-to source on these subjects.

A rare encouraging example is a London restaurateur who’s opening a sustainable fish and chip shop: He’ll get the majority of his fish from “30 British fishermen whose practices he has studied.”