Magnus Johnson, a marine scientist at the University of Hull, published this column on his blog almost a decade ago, as readers with good memories may recall – but it remains just as pertinent today. We reprint it here with a new introduction, in which he reflects on how little has changed in the intervening decade

Almost 10 years ago, I published this article on my blog ( It was at a time when it felt like fishing was being vilified through a co-ordinated effort by the NGO industry.

The only image of a fisherman that conservationists appeared to be willing to accept was a Captain Birdseye type: a bearded, wrinkly, sou’wester-clothed man battling against the sea in his little wooden boat, hand-hauling lines and nets to catch a few fish. The idea that fishing, like farming, is a primary industry that seeks to feed people and sustain local communities is an anathema to many of these conservation businesses.

In recent times I’ve thought ‘here we go again’ as I read complete untruths about North Sea cod being fished to extinction, the theft of the commons by the industrialisation of the sea as wind farms march across it, and clamour for generic exclusion of fishers from traditional grounds in Scottish waters by NGOs.

These NGOs are incredibly well funded and because they are opinion holders, rather than stakeholders, do not feel the pain caused to local communities by loss of real jobs and the ongoing gentrification of rural coastal towns.

The power of NGOs is huge and the fishing industry is up against Brandolini’s law (the fact that it takes 10 times as much effort to refute BS as it does to produce it in the first place). It’s really important that the industry support their representative organisations – at local and national scales. They are the people quietly and constantly working away on behalf of the industry to keep those in power properly informed.

Imagine you have a business…

You’re not breaking any laws and it’s something your family have been doing for hundreds of years. Your whole community has been doing it and whole cultures, traditions, music, stories and clothes have evolved around it. Industries have thrived on your products. Your product is gluten-free, contains no additives, has a low carbon cost, doesn’t involve ploughing and transforming the land, and gives us beautiful food that kings and commoners alike adore.

Your industry is one where workers can do well just by dint of tenacity and hard work. The aristrocracy and powerbrokers don’t go near it. Your activity is the source of identity for coastal communities. At work you are free.

Now imagine, having been bombarded with insultingly simplistic hyperbole about the impacts of your industry, that the middle classes decide not to like you. They view your job as one for greedy, good-for- nothing skivers, folk that take something for nothing. These people are more articulate than you, better off, better connected, more numerous, and have no economic link to your business. If you fail, it has no impact on them.

In fact, they earn more money the more despicable they can make you appear. Casting aspersions on your character and industry is a multi-million- pound business. Not only that, but their success in vilifying you makes them feel smug. These people make such a good job of making you look bad because that is what they are paid to do; they can afford good lawyers and bad politicians.

You, on the other hand, are paid to work. Not to wear a suit and sit in an office wearing a shirt and tie in meeting after meeting, discussing the nuances of situations over canapés.

You find yourself and your industry being eroded. Not by fact-based evidence but by the wild ramblings of people who are ideologically driven to persecute those who make a living from a common resource.

If this is you, my friend, you are a fisherman. Be proud. Be strong. Be safe.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a lecturer in environmental marine science at the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull. His views are his own.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here


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