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Fishing chiefs slate letter on stocks

The Scotsman

1st March 2004

Angus Howarth

FISHING industry chiefs yesterday branded as "complete rot" a plea by the Secretary of State for the Environment and her predecessors to back a global initiative to preserve endangered fish.

In a 200-word letter to the Sunday Times, the ten politicians warned that the "nightmare" of the utter collapse of UK fish stocks such as cod, hake and halibut was now close to becoming a reality.

The Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, and nine former holders of the post, including Michael Howard, the Tory leader John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Chris Patten, an EU Commissioner, all put their names to the letter.

They stated their support for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which wants retailers to introduce a labelling system for fish caught from sustainable stocks so consumers can choose them instead of fish from declining species.

The independent organisation was established by Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of seafood, and the World Wildlife Fund in 1997 and is backed by more than 100 bodies in 20 countries.

But Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Hamish Morrison said: "The MSC is about commercial objectives, not about conservation. It has absolutely no democratic or scientific legitimacy whatsoever.

"Fishermen have to act within the law, which allows them to catch precious little. The MSC wants to intimidate consumers and fishermen into buying fish which will give its backers a market share advantage.

"They are trying to bully fishermen by saying: ‘You put our label on your fish or we’ll make sure no-one buys it’."

The letter from the secretaries of state warns: "The collapse of our fish stocks is no longer a distant nightmare. It is a present reality.

"In the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic, many stocks are in terminal decline."

It adds: "Somehow we have to stop the destruction before it is too late ... The MSC is making a real difference. Please help to make sure there will be fish forever and that we don’t let today’s greed destroy tomorrow’s stock."

The SNP fisheries spokesman Richard Lochhead MSP said: "Despite the myths peddled by many anti-fish campaigners, cod stocks are increasing and haddock stocks are at a 30-year high.