Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Are we anything more than a ravenous cancer upon the natural world? Will we keep on taking until there is nothing left?

If animals and fish and birds could talk, I would prostrate myself before them and beg forgiveness for what we are doing to them. Give it another few thousand years and I wonder if mankind will be any more than a mere footnote to the history of this glorious planet, derided as the species which came so close to emptying the seas and causing the extinction of nearly all living things. I tend to be a pretty positive person, but sometimes something really gets to me and it snowballs into a blog post like this……………


So my mate Mark and I are fishing on the north coast of Cornwall on Tuesday morning of this week. Conditions are pretty tasty albeit the actual fishing wasn’t exactly firing liked we hoped it might. Anyway, we’re fishing away and then a commercial fishing boat turns up and starts to haul a great big gill net in not very far from shore at all, as per the photo above. But no, I am not about to have a rant and a rave against commercial fishing, for if the licensed vessel was observing the size and catch limits then it was doing nothing illegal.

OK, so it hardly fills us with cheer and goodwill to watch a gill net being pulled in right in front of where we are fishing, and whilst I am not laying the blame for a poor morning’s fishing at this boat’s door, to be perfectly honest my will to continue fishing that particular session left me. I made some phone calls when I got home to check that the commercial boat was fishing legally - and it was if size limits and catch restrictions were being correctly observed - albeit of course they were not legally allowed to be targeting bass and instead I am sure were gillnetting the mullet and then if they “by mistake landed any bass in the process”, they could legally land them as part of a bycatch regulation.

Yes, I know it makes no logical sense how this could be allowed to happen, and as much as I want to give that particular commercial skipper the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t to know that at this time of year and in this part of Cornwall there tend to be a lot of mullet and, shock horror, bass shoaling up close to shore, my guess is that he knew exactly what was going on and then of course how he might manipulate the insane regulations. I don’t know this for a fact, but with how mankind treats the natural world I can’t help but err on the side of cynicism at what was going on right in front of us. We can argue back and forth until the polar ice caps do actually melt and we are left clinging to our lifejackets while what’s left in the oceans has the last laugh, but we know that we take too many fish from the sea. Is it simply our nature as human beings to keep on taking? And how long can it go on for before there really is practically nothing left?


And to be perfectly honest it depresses the hell out of me. Why do we do it? Why do we take and take, even when we know that fish stocks are in trouble? By no means am I some eco warrior who doesn’t use plastic bags for their food shopping or eats only tree bark and builder’s putty (sorry, I meant tofu or whatever that stuff is). I embrace certain elements of technology for both work and leisure, I live in a nice house, we burn plenty of wood in the winter, and I use most likely a lot of electricity doing what I do. My carbon footprint can’t exactly be that great with the amount I have flown for work over many years now, I eat plenty of meat, and I drive an epic diesel car.

But I wonder what the hell we are doing here. Are we going to keep on taking and taking and killing and killing until someday in the not too distant future there’s going to be very little or quite possibly nothing left of the natural world and the creatures within it? As I said, I am not picking on commercial fishing only when said vessel was most likely obeying the laws laid down by the powers that be, rather I must call into question firstly the powers that be, and secondly what seems to be a complete lack of respect for the world around us. Does morality ever come into the decisions that are taken? Will mankind ever do the right thing quite simply because it’s the right thing to do, or will it always be about power and money and votes? Does the natural world stand a bloody chance?

Can you imagine if one day a decision was taken to better protect the fish stocks that was based on morality and not politics or money or protecting the rights of the commercials? For all the scientists and studies and politics going on at the moment with bass and bass stocks, everybody who spends any time around these fish and the sea in general knows they are in trouble. It ain’t bloody rocket science. But why are they in trouble? Drum roll please, and don’t faint at the shock, but it’s because we take too many of them out of the sea to eat, end of. The commercial sector can bleat on about jobs and livelihoods and future generations of commercial fishermen, but they know as well as anybody that too many fish are being taken from the seas. Morality doesn’t come into it on any level though, and as each successive generation finds less and less out there to harvest, one must surely wonder if at some point our rampant disregard for the natural world will be our downfall - and what’s left of the natural world I am sure would breathe a collective sigh of relief……….

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