I have a story to tell you about fish. No, wait, come back!


First published in July 2020.


Over 20 years ago, I was an exec in the web agency used by WWF (pandas, not wrestlers). And as such, I was closely involved in their GLOBAL campaign to Stop Overfishing. Remember the word GLOBAL.

Here is what I learned.

In the 1990s, fishing worldwide was in crisis. Decades of massive industrial fishing had dangerously depleted stocks. Standard practice was to use weighted nets big enough to hold 6 Jumbo Jets, that dragged along the sea bed and caught absolutely everything.

The nets destroyed the hatcheries, and killed young fish before they got to breeding age. If they can’t reproduce, the species dies. In parts of the North Sea this was happening 6 times a year, and fish stocks fell at eye-watering speed. This was replicated all over the world.

The North Sea cod was declared “economically extinct” – so few left, it made no sense to fish them. But we kept on fishing them anyway. Most governments had schemes or grants to support the industry, or bought rights to new places to fish into oblivion.

Something had to change.

WWF presented governments with options.

  1. Keep going as you are and have no fish. No fish means no fishing industry;
  2. Limit fishing and save some of your industry GLOBALLY.

People chose option 2.

The UK was a member of the EU, so it signed as the EU. But we would have signed anyway. I personally sat in rooms with ministers who said so. Signing as the EU was just cheaper, because we only had 1/28th of the admin to pay for. But we had to sign. That is point 1.

Standard practice was to use weighted nets that dragged along the sea bed and caught absolutely everything, most of which had to be discarded afterwards.

Here is point 2.

We don’t have rights to our fishing grounds because we privitised them at a knockdown price. They were snapped up by a few wealthy families, who sold them on.

We did this. Not the EU. Us. We took a national asset, sold it cheap to our mates, who flipped them for a quick buck.

So, leaving the EU will not – cannot – change fishing. You can’t catch a fish that doesn’t exist; and you can’t stop people from accessing fishing grounds you just sold to them. Anyone who suggests otherwise is lying to you.

I have every sympathy for fishermen who suffer because of this, but Brussels didn’t do it. And I’ve got absolutely zero sympathy for those exploiting your suffering for political gain. They do not have your interests at heart. Never did.

They literally sold your job.

One last thing: the fishing industry has been depleted by environmental limits, low stocks, and privatisation. Just like mining was. We didn’t see Rees Mogg on the picket lines. I don’t remember Farage taking a stand at Orgreave.

Liars and hypocrites.🔷


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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 23 July 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: pxfuel.)

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