End of the Dutch shrimp fleet?

POST: By Cees Meeldijk, Councilor Hollands Kroon

Last weekend a press release was issued by a collective of fifteen nature organisations. They are filing an enforcement request with the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality because they believe the ministry should reconsider the decision to tolerate shrimp fishing. The necessary permit to fish expired on January 1 this year, and a tolerance situation will apply for the next nine months. The reason: there are scientific concerns about the harmful effects of shrimp fishing on the seabed and the organisms that live there. As soon as the tolerance situation ends and the permit is no longer granted, it will mean the end of shrimp fishing in the Netherlands and the associated shrimp fleet, which consists of approximately two hundred vessels.

Sustainability and the Natura 2000 area

Libraries have now been written on this subject, and the fishery has been talking to nature organizations and the ministry about sustainability for years. Due to the nitrogen problem, fishermen are now forced to adapt their vessels. Only a month before the license expired was it clear what the sector had to deal with. The impact of these measures is significant. There are many practical objections. The shipyards also indicate that the given nine months are far too short to adapt the ships. In addition, there are older fishing vessels where adjustments are not possible. These fishermen are forced to stop fishing in this way.

Meanwhile, the discussion about nitrogen at sea is raging. The months of uncertainty surrounding this issue are having a major impact on small fishing communities. In addition, there are many other things that plague the sector. Examples are closed areas, wind farms and high gas oil prices. And then fifteen nature organizations are also knocking on the ministry’s door to stop giving permits altogether.

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Between land and ship

If the nature organizations are right, thousands of jobs will be at risk, both directly and indirectly. Nature organizations always say that fishing must become more sustainable. But why would you invest in an expensive renovation of your ship if the same nature organizations want to cancel the permit via an enforcement request?

An innovative invention like the pulse rig is banned by the state, although this technology actually reduces the ship’s gas oil consumption and disturbs the seabed less than the usual rigs. The fishermen are discouraged. You wonder what else is allowed. Or will fishing in the Netherlands disappear completely? The effect: the average age of the fleet is getting older (image below) because young fishermen no longer start their own businesses and seek refuge elsewhere. Even if the license is granted again, the fishery and with it the fishing communities are slowly bleeding to death in this way.

Fishing community

Fishing is not just about catching fish. There is a whole ecosystem of activity and culture around it. As long as people live in the Netherlands, there will be fishing. People in these communities are proud of “their” fishing. A hard job that is not without danger. Ensuring a local and healthy product. Also think of old sayings like ‘herring in the country, doctor on the side’ and studies showing that fish oils are good for humans. Furthermore, almost all fish stocks in Dutch waters are in good shape. All people who live from it both directly and indirectly. The fishing communities in the Netherlands watch with amazement as their way of life is criminalized step by step from above. Whether it is a European ban on pulse fishing or closed areas for fishing designated by The Hague. Or a ban by the province of Noord-Holland against fishing advertisements in bus shelters. People who work day and night and live in an area they know like the back of their pants are now being told that they are destroying nature. Despite the fact that humans have been present there for thousands of years and influence the area. For example, one could easily argue that the waters of the Netherlands are not only nature, but also culture. People are part of the area, and so are the fishermen. Should the local communities with their fishing culture disappear to make way for nature, or do they still have the right to exist? The impact of the loss of fisheries will undoubtedly be significant. So what should the people in the fishing communities who make a living do to learn to code?

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