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Fishery asks for more debate

The stakes for the Big Fishery Debate are high. Moderator Ruben Maes has the task to give the public a clearer view on the production chain in fishery in order to make better decisions when buying wish. Quite the task! 

Janno Lanjouw, organisator of the debate and member of Youth Food Movement has dug into fishery. ‘Fish is an important part of susainable food. But to be hones, we know to little to make the right decisions. When speaking to researchers, the conclusion could be that the fish is almost gone. A fisherman will tell something radically different.'Wilbert van de Kamp (YFM Groningen) is present to formulate a vision on sustainable fishery for the WWF from the point of view of consumers and fishermen. 

Nathalie Steins, head fishery of IMARES kicks off with facts & figures to work with during the debate. ‘The Dutch fishery is non-existent. There are huge differences between different kinds of fishery, which is why this debate will focus on Dutch sea fishery' 
In the North Sea, 275 cutters catch about 66,000 tons annually. The bigger part of this is sole and plaice. In order to catch these fish, the nets scrape the bottom of the sea, which causes a lot of damage. But according Nathalie, the quality of fishing has improved because of involvement of fishermen, an European long term plan and clearer quota. 'Besides that, the numbers of discard have gone down radically because of innovations in thrawler fishery, like puls fishery and twin rig. This has also impacted the use of fuel in a positive way. But there is still a number of challenges for fishery, like feeding the world and overfishing in areas in which the European laws are not in force.' 
'What about illegal fisheries?', ask Ruben. 'Shouldn't we be worried about that?' Nathalie agrees: 'by means of on-board observers, we can control what happens on sea.  But that is not enough, there are still larger challenges in illegal fishery.
Nico Waasdorp, owner of a fish store, tells what kind of fish he has put on the table on the stage. Farmed fish, wild fish, soles, sardines: a lot of different fishes. 'Whiting is a fish we catch in our seas and yet we never eat it. It is a fish which is not paid for enough, so margins are too little for fishermen', says Nico. Ruben asks him: 'why is it that Pangasius is the most popular fish in the Netherlands?' Nico answers: 'because it does not taste like fish. Our population has a fish stick mentality'.
Time to let the fishermen speak for themselves. Hendrik Kramer catches crab and is member of Jongerennetwerk Visserij, Miranda Bout fishes in a sustainable way on mullet, and Gerard van Balsvoort represents the Pelagic Freezertrawler Association. Three different kinds of fishing, but also thee different views on fishing. Hendrik: ‘If you want to catch fish in a sustainable way, you should let the fishes you do not catch swim, and say to yourself: I will become rich next year.' Miranda and her husband Job catch mullet and brass and are members of the Goede Vissers, a group of fishermen who want to catch fish in a different way. By means of fishing in a smarter way and just catching the older fish, they damage their surrounding as little as possible. 
The big boats which Gerard van Balsvoort represents are quite different. Whereas Hendrik and Miranda fish from boats which are at most 30 meters long, his biggest boat is 144 meters long.With these boats, they fish mainly for African and Asian countries. How sustainable is fishing with these ships? Gerard: 'we use acoustic technology to see where the fish is. Because of this, our discard is also very little.'
Overfishing is a subject for which three experts join the stage:  Christien Absil of Stichting Noordzee, Hans Nieuwenhuis of MSC-keurmerk and Bas Eickhout, Politician in the European Parliament for GroenLinks. According to Hans, the MSC-keurmerk is a step towards sustainable fishery. However, for consumers, it makes buying this kind of fish harder, because it is more expensive. Hans says: 'that is mainly because of the traders in the chain'.
For small fishermen MSC is too expensive, states Miranda: 'in the end, it is important to see where your fish comes from and how it has been treated. 
On a European level, fishery is romanticised too much according to Bas Eickhout. Because of this, stricter rules are hard to implement. 'I am happy that debates about fishery have a more scientific and concrete aim. That means that it becomes easier to make laws for bilateral contracts between EU-contries and third world countries. Local fishery cannot compete with the big ships from the EU.'
Discard is a hot topic: a short about this topic, made by Jaap & Kasper Filmproducties is shown. A funny clip about the discard which is fished with the regular fish you order. Reactions from the public and experts are quite critical: it is not a positive way to communicate about the recent sustainable developments. Bas Eickhout reacts that this nevertheless shows consumers what really happens when they have fish on their plates. 
Farmed fish is another to eat fish in a sustainable way. Harry Hoogendoorn of Queens Productions is market leader in frozen filets which are available in Dutch supermarkets. About two third of the fish he sells is farmed fish. He does not sell plaice anymore, because it did not sell well enough. 'Dutch people do not know how to prepare this typically Dutch fish anymore.'
Moderater Ruben Maes summarizes the discussion: 'the feeling with which people will leave this debate is that eating fish is not really a problem. Is there no reason to worry?' A lot of people raise their hand. Why is it that fishermen earn so little, while fish is quite an expensive product? Which margin should fishermen get in order to fish more sustainable? How much of fishery in the seas is controlled? Is it not a better idea to have this debate in a more international way? It is obvious that there is a necessity for more knowledge. 

Consume fish in a better way?
-Ask where the fish comes from, and get to know your fisher
-Buy MSC-certified fish
-Eat sustainably fished fish or farmed fish

Want to read more about the debate? Search for the hashtags  #VISDEBAT and #FFF2014 on twitter

Text: Suzanne Leijtens
Image: Floor Fortunati

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