Overfishing of sprat in berries destroys fish stocks
Do We all know that recently our government has once again failed to ban the pickling of sprat berries, the staple food of the fish that feed us? It’s only the environment, of course, and Irish governments have never taken this seriously. Readers know the implications, but does the government know?
The berries serve as nurseries for juvenile fish and all sprats, including those that are still immature, are extracted for crushing into dog food, mink, pork and fishmeal. Sprats are safe for human consumption, even tasty, some would say, but we prefer the larger fish that feed on them.
Isn’t it as clear as day, as clear as a pike stick, that if you remove the sprats and sandeels (the base of the marine food chain), all the bigger fish that depend on them will die of hunger ? Sprats are fished by the ton, each ton representing more than a million fish, in shallow bays with a two-person trawl, two boats pulling a large net between them. The result is that bays and estuaries become as lifeless as deserts below the surface. It is a horrible thought. And here
another. The sprat, collected by trucks, brings in 130 € per tonne. The resulting dog food sells for € 5 per kilo. All of this could be stopped overnight by government law.
In 2020, Green Party Senator Pauline O’Reilly called on Navy Secretary Charlie McConalogue to reinstate the six-mile ban on fishing vessels over 18m, which was overturned that summer. by the High Court. In the Irish fishing news in November 2020, she said: “I hear reports of up to 200 tonnes coming out of an area in a single day, per pair of fishermen. This is the equivalent of 52 million fish.
She called for a ban on sprat fishing because it is a vital food source for other marine species. The outlawing did not take place. This year, calls for the ban have again failed.
For the past few years, no mackerel has been caught in my local bay. Coastal fishermen need to go further for cod, hake, ling and pollock. Fifteen years ago, the shoals around the pier were so dense that the local boys could dive into them and bring a few to the surface, fresh for supper.
Haven’t the politicians who vacation here every summer notice this change? They need to know as much as we do about the cycle that sustains nature and ourselves. So why wasn’t an outright ban imposed when the opportunity recently presented itself? Was protecting the livelihoods of the few hundred sprat-catchers more important than the conservation of stocks in supporting the whole of Ireland’s coastal fishing industry and the essential food of the larger fish of which we , humans, let’s depend? The sprat-catchers have trawlers: let them fish for other species, such as local communities which have quotas. There are no quotas for sprat!
In the absence of a “total allowable catch”, the capture of winter sprats in the Waterford Estuary Marine Protected Area took place day and night in 2020, the fish were pumped into waiting trucks. . In October 2020, a pair of trawlers landed 200 tonnes of “sprat” at Castletownbere after an afternoon of trawling in the port of Glengarriff. To quote a fisherman from West Cork: “All unsustainable fishing must be stopped”. Starving our fish to feed companion dogs is madness. The fish support us; dogs don’t. Exploitation of the oceans beyond sustainable levels poses a greater risk of the annihilation of our own species.
Ttogether we care for the future of our grandchildren as we devastate nature more every day. I found some hope the other night while watching David Attenborough’s autobiography A life on our planet. He is 93 years old. It ends with the most important and inspiring story I have heard in years. “We can solve the problems we are currently facing. If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us. Obviously, the planet took care of itself, and us, until we started to overexploit it. Stop overuse and it will recover.
On an island in the Pacific where stocks of fish, the islanders’ main food source, were depleted, the islanders have banned fishing on more than a third of the reef. In a few years, the fish in the area have reproduced so well that a new stock, in search of space, has emerged and repopulated the entire reef.
Attenborough says “no-take zones in over a third of our seas would be enough to provide us with all the fish we need.”
Likewise, by keeping a third of the land and a third of the forests, we would save the planet for our children. By reasoned management of two thirds of the remaining natural systems, we can survive. Global populations
are falling. The world’s population is predicted to stabilize by the year 2100 at 10.9 billion. The new planetary management that Attenborough is proposing, and to which we should all aspire, will save us from self-annihilation.