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The photographs in the bar show a different scene - the boats, the people, activity - from a different age. One based on a fish that’s long since gone, swum away or barrelled, leaving the aging fisherfolk to their fate.

And as this happened, sail gave way to steam, gave way to diesel. The boats went further out, to catch up with the fleeing fish. The capital needed for going to sea increased: many fold so. The ability to make a living from the fish decreased. Fishing became available to fewer and fewer, and wealthier and wealthier folk at that.

Monopoly of the sea, by a few hundred massive floating factories, is the fact of the matter today. And with each passing day, it seems there is less and less fish for them to catch.

Natural systems live dynamically. Ecosystems grow and die, transform and heal. But our management of the ways in which we take from these gifts of nature have not been dynamic. They have not allowed for healing. They have sought simply to maximise the “harvest”, at all costs. Cullen’s cost has been the story of its fall. The harvest maximised has favoured the few, at the expense of the many.

The few were our grandparents - a generation or two; the many will keep on coming, our children for whom the herring would seem to have gone. The labour spent was their own, our grandparents’ to give, and its returns justly theirs. The capital, while accumulated in an economic age of less enlightenment than ours, still justly saved, and theirs.

But the fish - mother nature’s gift: what right had anyone to take that from their grandchildren and our own? This is the essence of the issues underlying the concepts of sustainability. How do we manage natural resources in such a way as not to compromise the rights - equal to others - of the coming generations, in perpetuity?

THE PURPOSE of land reform is to put right, by the requirements of natural law, the balance of our individual, common and collective rights, obligations, and duties pertaining to the natural resources of the world. Land reform - perverse though it might seem to some - therefore includes “sea reform”. Much of the history of the world through the modern age has been based on the appropriation of the land - our common inheritance and birthright - to private interest.

But in more recent times, the value of the sea has been subjected to a similar process. The marine resource has seen “enclosure”, and it now benefits an ever-narrower private interest. The control of the sea’s resources has fallen ever further from the communities local to them: the return on the fruit of the sea have fallen into ever-larger pockets than those of the common folk. Rights to fish are freely bought and sold at market to private gain without regard for the ethics of ownership. And to compound such problems, the private use of areas of seabed, for fish farming and the like, are being found to compromise the health and value of that portion of the common resource still remaining in relatively wider hands.

David Thomson reviews the current state of the world’s oceans (see page 4). He catalogues the main issues and problems regarding our present and recent use of the sea’s living resource. He concurs with most other commentators on the matter, in identifying, immediately before us, an ecological, economic and social crisis. The fishermen’s fish have not come home to spawn.

We should ask how the fishermen have allowed this to happen. How could they have been so blase about their own future? In living memory, the fishermen have called for rights to intensify their activities, to increase their catches. Yet it seemed clear to many of those outside the industry, that this strategy was short-sighted and doomed. Why did the fishermen not see this too? Why have the fishermen in Europe only recently started calling for the introduction of measures that would allow them to lessen their impact on the seas that are their livelihood?

The answer lies in the control of the resource: without responsibility for management, and the return of the resource lease values, directly to those communities reliant on that resource, the interests lying behind all decisions and actions were likely to be inherently flawed.

There are current moves, within Scotland and elsewhere, to wrest control of at least the inshore fisheries management from the State, and return it to local community control. However, it seems that the control that is being sought is simply management control -the control of licences, quotas, season management and other such instruments. However, for moves to return control to succeed, the changes must go further, and deeper.

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