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Our Fishing Heritage
Chapter 25. Visionaries

The New England states of north-east USA have a fishing history stretching back to the time of the Pilgrim Fathers, - and before that if we include the substantial amount of coastal fishing the Indian tribes engaged in. Cape Cod is the famous promontory at the south-east extremity of Massachusetts, and south of that there lies Nantucket Island which was a big base for fishing fleets for over 100 years. Its fishing industry concentrated initially on whaling, making it the ‘whale capital’ of the world for a period. The whale era declined and ended following the advent of petroleum. In Nantucket’s case the decline was hastened by a great fire in 1846, and by news of the gold strikes in California which attracted many of the men. The last of a whaler fleet of up to 150 boats, left Nantucket in 1869.

However, before these developments ever started, we read in Obed Macy’s fascinating History of Nantucket, that in the year 1690 some persons were on a high hill observing the whales spouting and sporting with each other, when one observed : “There – (pointing to the sea) – is a green pasture where our children’s grand-children will go for bread.” It was my privilege some 277 years later to work with some of the descendents of the great-grand-children of the early New England pioneers. Fortunately, by that time they had given up on the whale fishery, now preserved in a visible form at the remarkable Connecticut museum village of Mystic. The Nantucket people and their neighbours in the New England ports, had turned instead to harvest the stocks of cod, haddock, hake, flounder, and lobster that abounded off the eastern seaboard of the USA. During my time, together with the then U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and the patriarchal Jake Dykstra of the Point Judith Fishermen’s Coop, I was given the opportunity to help re-start a winter herring fishery that enabled the coop and its fisher members to improve their finances.

For many coastal communities on both sides of the North Atlantic three and four centuries ago, the adjacent sea and ocean was indeed a “green pasture” where their later children would go for bread.

In his book The Silver Darlings, Scottish writer, Neil Gunn described some of the victims of the Highland Clearances, - a community in Caithness that had been evicted from their ancestral homes and thrown to the edge of the sea. He wrote : “They had come from beyond the mountain which rose up behind them, from inland valleys and swelling pastures, where they and their people before them had lived from time immemorial. The landlord had driven them from these valleys and pastures, and burned their houses, and set them here against the sea-shore to live if they could and if not, to die. Yet it was out of that very sea that hope was now coming to them. All along these coasts … there was a new stirring of sea life. The people would yet live, the people themselves, for no landlord owns the sea, and what the people caught there would be there own.”

Today, the great grand-children of the Silver Darling fishers are discovering that a new landlord has indeed claimed ownership of the sea and its produce, and claimed the right to sell its resources to the highest bidders on the market. The hope the sea offered to the first generation of crofters is being taken from today’s coastal communities by the representatives of the UK and the EU who regard monetary values and concentration of profit as more important than humane considerations of justice or social equity.

Lord Leverhulme

It may be thought strange, in an account that highlights the damage done to coastal fisheries by multi-nationals and the globalization process, to commend the ideals and aspirations of one of the first of the businessmen to establish a multi-national corporation. William Hesketh Lever (1851 – 1925) had developed a successful soap making business in Warrington, near Merseyside, with his brothers. A radical thinking, ambitious, and enterprising businessman, Lever was to expand the family firm into a global corporation that was to be a model for subsequent multi-nationals. He was a strange mixture of aggressive capitalist, social reformer, and paternalistic churchman. His stated aims were to, “socialize and Christianise business relations, and get back to that close family brotherhood that existed in the good old days of hand labour.” As part of that goal he had a model village built on the Wirral peninsula south of Liverpool for the employees of Lever Brothers, and named after the company’s best known soap product, Port Sunlight. But his altruism was still quite autocratic and paternalistic. Explaining his reluctance to trust the poor with money in their hands, he said, “It would not do you much good if you send it (the money), down your throats in the form of bottles of whiskey, bags of sweets, or fat geese at Christmas. On the other hand, if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation.”

In the final six years of his life, Lord Leverhulme turned his attention to the fishing industry, and to the development of the Western Isles. He tackled this, his final project with typical zeal and imagination. At that time herring were abundant around the Hebrides, and they found a ready market in Britain and a much larger market in Europe and Russia. The impact of the First World War on the German economy, was not yet apparent, nor the effect of the Bolshevik Revolution on Russia. Leverhulme reckoned that by establishing facilities in the Hebrides to catch, process, and transport herring, he could tap into the markets that had sustained the industry for centuries. He went as far as establishing 400 fish shops in Britain to be outlets for his fish. The shops were owned and operated under the MacFisheries Company which continued to function for the next 80 years.

In 1919 he purchased the south Harris Estate from the Earl of Dunmore for £ 36,000. The estate included the village of Obbe which he planned to turn into a major port and fish processing station. He invested in three piers, one of stone, two of wood, plus curing sheds, smoke houses, refrigerated huts, stores, and a 20 car garage. A total of 300 tradesmen worked on the project over 2 years. The new town was named Leverburgh. In 1924 a great quantity of herring was landed there off 12 steam drifters bought from Yarmouth. Herring girls were recruited from far and near to gut and salt the fish. But the post-war recession was hitting the corporation hard, and the herring venture had to be curtailed due to lack of capital. Then in 1925 Lord Leverhulme died, and with him the whole Hebridean venture was to perish. The company cut its losses and sold the Harris island assets.

William Lever was certainly a man of vision and action. So what was wrong with his Highland enterprise, our how did he err in the planning ? The first reason is that he failed to consult. He did not make any serious attempt to ‘sell’ the project the cautious, conservative people of Harris and Lewis. The other reasons relate to matters that were beyond his control, like the economic depression that struck Europe and America with unprecedented results. The seasonal nature of the herring fishery also put financial strains on his cash flow that he might have coped with in normal times, but not when his global investments were suffering from the down-turn in trade.

Since Lever’s time their have been other corporate attempts to get into fishing in a big way. Most have been the brain-children of capitalists like Lord William of Sunlight soap. But the largest was the product of communism, - the communism of the Soviet Union which built a modern global fishing fleet in 20 short years, from 1955 to 1975, only to see it perish by 1990 on the rocks of economic forces, mainly the real cost of fuel. Companies in Spain, Japan, the USA, Korea, and Taiwan, were also to over-invest in deep sea fishing, and to ignore the medium and long term risks to fish stocks and operating costs. Small scale ventures in contrast, have low impact, low costs, and are versatile enough to modify fishing operations to meet new challenges as they arise. The ‘big is beautiful’ approach has never worked long term in fisheries. It has instead mostly resulted in serious environmental, economic and social damage, from the days of the whaling fleets to our modern era of large deep sea trawlers and seiners.

Paddy the Cope

It was during a good fishing of whitings in the Irish Sea in the 1930’s that some of our boats were working out of the port of Ardglass in Ireland. My uncle Alec was approached by a Donegal man who was to become a legend in his time. The man was Patrick Gallagher, or “Paddy the Cope”, as he came to be called. Paddy had gone to work as a labourer in Scotland before the turn of the century, and after a brief period of carelessness with his money and lifestyle, he settled down to serious work and saving. He was impressed by the operations of the Scottish cooperatives of the time, and resolved to establish a similar organization back home in rural Donegal where poor farmers and farm labourers had little opportunity to improve their lot. Despite much skepticism, Paddy persevered and the Templecrone Co-operative Agricultural Society was formed in 1906, and went on to become an example to the whole cooperative movement in Ireland. It began with modest products like eggs and vegetables, and went on to handle every kind of house-hold and farm product. The ‘Cope’ was later to branch out into weaving, milling, credit provision, and fishing, over the next 20 to 30 years, and it was Paddy’s interest in fishing that took him to Ardglass and to approach my uncle on the pier there.

The Cope had financed a fishing boat which operated most of the time off west Donegal, but with limited success. When Paddy heard of the big whiting fishery off Ardglass, he sent the boat there to fish, but the boat’s catches remained poor. So Paddy traveled to the East coast to investigate. While there he observed the Scots boats landing good catches and asked his skipper how it was he could not also get some fish. “Why don’t you ask the Scots fishers for advice?”, Paddy wanted to know. But his skipper was just too shy and embarrassed to do so.

So Patrick Gallagher took it upon himself to approach my uncle Alec. He was warmly welcomed, and after hearing his story and request, Alec was happy to lend assistance to a fellow fisher. He had his brother check the Cope boat’s nets, and readjust them since their rigging and setting was well out, then he took Paddy’s skipper to sea with him to show precisely how and where they set the net, and how they hauled it relative to wind and tide. In a very short time the Cope boat was fishing successfully and able to contribute to the growth of Paddy’s fishing venture.

The whole story is well related in Paddy’s inimitable way in the book, “My Story, by Paddy the Cope”. It is a remarkable book, written in Paddy’s own broad Irish speech, copied down by his daughter, for Paddy remained largely illiterate to the end of his days. I have used the book often as a reference text and inspirational example when encouraging fishing communities and extension personnel on the virtues and advantages of acting in unity and organizing themselves and their fishing activities in a corporate way. It has been amusing to see fishers in Africa and Asia readily identify with Paddy’s struggle against the “gombeen man” who they then compared with some merchant or middle-man who exploited and intimidated them in their communities.

Following the success of the Templecrone Cooperative, other associations were established on similar lines in Ireland, and several purely fishery cooperatives were established. One of the best known and well managed was the Kilmore Quay Fishermen’s cooperative on the south coast between Dunmore and Wexford. Other fine fishing coops were set up in Killybegs, Greencastle, Burtonport, Galway-Rossaveal, and in Castletownbere in County Cork. In fisheries as in agriculture cooperatives have a checkered history. They are not easily managed, and can often be handicapped by internal discord or external competition. Nevertheless they can in certain situations perform a useful role and protect small scale operators who can be vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous merchants or more powerful competitors.

I knew the excellent Point Judith Fishermen’s Cooperative in Rhode Island, USA, and its fine leader, Jake Dykstra. It operated successfully for many years but is now a limited company as often happens to a coop after a certain stage of development. Japan has a long history of thriving fisheries cooperatives which have legal recognition and management responsibilities for inshore waters. There are also some potentially good fishery coops in South Africa though they suffered from restrictive legislation both before Apartheid and for a period afterwards.

In Israel, the Kibbutzim and related agricultural cooperative associations show what can be achieved by unity, hard work, and strong joint efforts. Some of the kibbutzim have ventured into fishing at times, mainly in the Mediterranean, but most of their fishery activities are confined to aquaculture and processing. There have also been a range of successful fishing cooperatives in Portugal and Spain.

Barry Fisher big-hearted, broad-minded fisherman pioneer

Barry Fisher hailed from the great old New England port of Gloucester. As a young lad he often sailed on local boats, including the last of the sail schooners which used dory boats to catch cod at sea as described in Captain’s Courageous. Of dory fishing out of Gloucester, at aged 17, he said dryly: "I never enjoyed a fishery ever again as much as I liked dory fishing.... I did not think much about money. What I had, I spent, and then it was back to George's Bank for another withdrawal."

In 1943 he joined the Merchant Marine and by the end of the war, still in his teens, he had seen North Africa and the Mediterranean, witnessed the Allied re-invasion of France, been on the Murmansk convoy in the Russian Arctic, and had his ship torpedoed from under him by a German U-boat.

After the war, he resumed fishing on a variety of east coast boats from North Carolina's Cape Hatteras to Newfoundland's Grand Banks. He then served with the U.S. Army in Korea, and during two tours of combat duty in the U.S. Army he was awarded two Bronze Stars, the Combat Infantry badge, three Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation medal, the U.S. Presidential and Korean Presidential Distinguished Unit citation, and four Battle Stars on his Korean Service medal. The citation for the first of his two Bronze Stars reads, in part:

Sgt. Fisher was leading a reconnaissance patrol on the Central Northeastern Korean Front on the 13th of April, 1952.... The patrol came under intense weapons fire from a large enemy patrol.... Realizing the seriousness of the situation, and with total disregard for his own safety, Sgt. Fisher boldly dashed some 45 to 50 yards through heavy enemy fire to reach the enemy. He hurled several grenades, and kept firing his own personal weapon as he charged..... Stunned by this one-man assault, the remaining enemy forces rapidly became disorganized.... The enemy withdrew.... As a result of his dauntless leadership, Sgt. Fisher and his men inflicted great damage and many casualties on a numerically superior enemy.

Years later he shared with me his deep misgivings over his part in the killing of North Korean soldiers in the front line action. While he served the military with commendable courage, he had pacifist leanings at heart. He was badly wounded towards the end of the Korean conflict and spent the time recovering in an Army hospital, studying for a GED which enabled him to attend Harvard University, where he earned a B.A. in History. Harvard was important to him for more than just books, however. While there, he met and married his life-long wife, Carol Lee Smith. After a short break Barry returned to Harvard for a Master's in Education. Following a brief teaching spell he was appointed to the staff of IBM. Barry found the big corporation too domineering, and he re-evaluated his career. “These people ruled my life” he told me, “they informed me what kind of house and neighbourhood I should live in, - They dictated the kind of car I should drive, and the clubs I should join, - even the kind of suit I should wear. They had all that control over me, - and the only thing they could for me in return, - was pay me money”. Well, Barry decided that money was not enough return for him to sell his soul and lifestyle. So he abandoned the executive life, returned to Massachusetts and went back to sea on a 65 foot wooden dragger fishing out of New Bedford.

That was where I first encountered him in 1967 when I was a new staff member of the Sea Grant commercial fisheries program of the University of Rhode Island, and Barry asked for my help with the introduction of Scottish seine net gear on his trawler. Later we enjoyed a steak dinner at his home, together with our two wives. I was intrigued by Barry’s world view, his extensive knowledge, and his ability to inspire an audience. In 1969 I was invited to join the staff of the Oregon State University which had a Marine Science Centre in Newport on the coast. I had other plans at the time, but strongly recommended they hire Barry, which they did. He went on to undertake a range of fishery projects on the Oregon coast, and in Samoa where he got on well with the fishermen, and where he used to tease Aggie Grey, the original ‘first lady’ of the island who inspired some of Michener’s characters.

The sea called once again in 1974, and from then to 1995 he captained and owned a succession of vessels on the west coast, was actively involved in the development of gear and other technology, and introduced midwater trawl fishing to the west coast. One of the first boats was the 50 foot Mi Toi. Then came Excalibur, which he built at Coos Bay in 1977.

The huge Alaskan deep sea fishery was largely untouched then, except by Soviet vessels which were able to fish close to the U.S. mainland, America having hesitated to declare its 200 mile marine EEZ. But when that limit was introduced, Barry saw his opportunity. He had been fishing the smaller stern trawler from Newport and Seattle after his University service was over, but sold the boat and replaced it with an 85 foot super-trawler designed to catch fish, but not to take them on board. The Soviets were so desperate for fish then, and being prohibited from fishing inside the newly declared 200 mile limit, they were prepared to purchase catches at sea from American vessels. Barry designed a remarkable system of detachable bags on his trawl nets. When his net came up full of fish, the long bag was disconnected and fastened to a flagged buoy. The Soviet factory ship picked up the buoy and the fish while Barry’s Excalibur had another bag attached to its trawl net and proceeded to fish on. The Russian ship would drop the first empty bad and buoy near Barry’s trawler, and so the operation continued. I had read of Barry’s fishing exploits in the international fishing press, and saw a colourful article on the operations in National Geographic magazine.

While the price the Russians paid for Barry’s fish was low, the sheer volume of catches he was able to deliver made it very profitable. At a fisheries conference around the time, Barry intrigued an audience of Alaskan and Seattle fishermen and fishery officials, with a paper and speech entitled, “How to take your wife to Hawaii on 2 cents a pound” ! Some of those who were present at that seminar told me later that it was remembered for years to come.

In addition to his commercial activities, Barry devoted great energy and generosity to fisheries education. He contributed heavily to marine fisheries programs at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Centre. He also supported the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Conservation Law Foundation, and other organizations too numerous to list. From 1983, he was president of Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, and was an effective spokesman for fisheries interests at the highest levels of regulation and government. In 1985, he was appointed to the OSU faculty as a Professor of Fisheries.

A gifted storyteller, Barry spoke fluent Spanish, and could get by in several other languages, including Russian and Portuguese. A true internationalist, Barry had the ability to mix and converse with persons of different nationalities and backgrounds. Alexander Popov, President of Russia's Binom fisheries company, spoke of Barry’s personal impact: "Every nation has its heroes. I'm not speaking about presidents or politicians. I'm talking about simple people who have the gift for making simple people happy. Barry Fisher had that gift. Not only in the United States but also in Russia, he became a legend."

Barry went on to play a leading role in the development of Alaska’s offshore fishery, and to speak on behalf of the industry at numerous meetings and conferences where his eloquence, humour and insights delighted audiences from all sections of society. Illness was to bring his life to an end in 2001 when he succumbed to cancer. But Barry had refused to slow down and even as death approached, it was typical of his concern that he asked that donations be sent to a fund to help fishing families that were going through di8fficult times. The University of Oregon, government officials, and the fishermen of that state, were to enshrine his memory in the impressive new Captain Barry Fisher Library building at the centre in Newport.

Hilmar Kristjonsson fisheries development masterfisherman, engineer,

When one thinks of the countries most prominent in fisheries by virtue of the size of their fishing fleet, one thinks usually of Japan or China. But when reflecting on countries to which fish are extremely important, one thinks if Iceland, The Faeroe Isles, and Norway. These Scandinavian lands have a long tradition in sea fishing and by virtue of its small population (now at 302,000), Iceland has a per capita catch of 6.5 tonnes which is the biggest in the world. So it is no surprise that Icelanders have figured prominently in international fishery circles and technical assistance projects. I worked alongside many of them, including Bjorn Bjarnasson, a really fine skipper and gear technologist, and Einar Kvaran, an equally splendid person and competent marine and fisheries engineer. But the one who probably made the biggest single contribution to international fisheries development was Hilmar Kristjonsson who served the Fisheries Department FAO from 1953 to 1980, as Chief of the Fishery Technology Division.

I knew of Hilmar through the epic volumes, Fishing Gear of the World 1, and 2, which he compiled and edited, plus numerous papers he produced. I met him first in the Soviet Union in 1965, when joining a UN study tour, and worked for him briefly the following year in Rome, Italy where the FAO headquarters was located. While in Moscow, he had asked if I would agree to run a UN fishery project on Lake Chad, in Africa, but I then was heading to Newfoundland, and felt correctly that as Lake Chad was drying up, there was not a long term future for that fishery. Later I was able to get Hilmar to address fishery conferences I organized in Canada and the USA, and we became quite close when I joined FAO in 1973.

Kristjonsson was born in Reykjavik in 1918 and like many young Icelanders he sailed on motor boats and trawlers during summer and school holidays, and later worked as an engineer in fish factories. During the war years he served the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, and worked for an engineering company in San Francisco. He stayed on in California to complete a B.Sc. in mechanical engineering at Berkeley. After a further period of service in Iceland, he was recruited by the fledgling Food and Agriculture Organisation of the U.N. and commenced his main career in international fisheries development.

Hilmar was eventually to visit every country in the world except mainland China, and to record a vast amount of information and technical data in his encyclopaedic brain. He could quote from memory the fleet size, vessel specifications, the fish catch, fishery operations, the types of fishing gear, and the capacity of the processing plants, in practically every fishing country, and go into extraordinary detail on each. I used to emerge from a session with him in his office, feeling mentally exhausted. It was as if he grabbed your mind and made it focus on issues with the same intensity he displayed. But at the same time he was a kind and considerate man who was loved by all his staff.

Two new words entered the technical dictionary in development projects thanks to Kristjonsson’s efforts. They were “masterfisherman”, and “artisanal”. You will not find them in the Oxford, Websters or Chambers dictionaries as yet, but they have been in regular use in fishery development for over 30 years. Until his time, the fishery specialists aid organizations and governments tended to send out to developing countries were nearly all biologists. Hilmar reckoned that there was a need for practical specialists who knew how to operate boats and construct nets. But the bureaucracies of his time viewed lowly fishermen and skippers as less than professional officers. By calling them ‘masterfishermen’, Hilmar was able to get their profession recognized, and respected. The adjective, ‘artisanal’ was coined from the noun ‘artisan’, and then applied to traditional fishers in the developing world who thenceforth were described as ‘artisanal fishermen’ as opposed to commercial fishermen and fishermen trained to use modern technologies.

Together with those new words, came a number of terms, now in everyday use in fisheries, which were coined by Kristjonsson or his colleagues, like : ‘fad’ or fish aggregating device, to describe the buoys or bunches of palm leaves anchored in deep waters in the tropics to attract tuna and other pelagic fish such as mackerel and sardine. Kristjonsson organized the documentation of all the main types of fishing gear in the world, in a series of catalogues which covered large scale and small scale fishing nets, traps, lines, and other apparatus. They are still available from FAO and its bookseller agents.

Along with other early members of the Fishery Department of FAO, like Harry Winsor, a personable Newfoundlander, Hilmar believed that in the area of providing food for a needy world, fisheries had an advantage over agriculture in that its harvests were immediately available, while those from farming had to wait many months to come to fruition. But surprisingly the World Food Programme rarely used fish or fishing to alleviate hunger, even though huge stocks existed offshore of famine afflicted lands like Ethiopia and the Sudan.

If there was a blind spot in Hilmar’s vision, and fishery development pioneers of his period, it was their failure to anticipate the natural limits to the growth of fish production, and the negative effects of over-capacity in the world’s fishing fleets, and the pressures caused by increased effort from technological improvements. He cared deeply for the poor fishermen of the world and sought to improve their lot by enabling them to catch more fish. What he did not foresee was the threats to these fishers and their communities from the erosion of their traditional fishing rights, and the enormous increases in global fish catches.

John Kurien organisation and defence of small scale fishers

The words that come to mind when seeking to describe John Kurien, would be integrity, courage, insight, academic excellence, and heart-deep concern for social justice. He has demonstrated each of these qualities over the past thirty years and more, as he has grappled with the social and economic problems of coastal people of India, Bangladesh, S.E. Asia, and the Americas, who depend on fish harvests for their livelihoods.

I had met John several times when working with FAO, and was delighted to have him participate in the Regional Conference and Workshop on intermediate technology and alternative energy systems I organised with ADB support in Manila Philippines in 1980. John went on to form ICSF, the international collective in support of fish workers, in 1984, when he also staged an alternative conference to FAO’s small scale fishery meeting which he felt was ignoring major social and economic issues.

John has written profusely about the plight of artisanal fishermen and their communities, and has been an eloquent and powerful voice calling for justice and opportunity for these people. One of his most interesting papers concerns fisheries subsidies which both WTO and World Bank blamed for over-capacity in fisheries. Many writers concluded wrongly from the subsidy debate that it was the small scale fisheries who were receiving most subsidies, and that these should be eliminated, and the large artisanal fleets reduced in number. In the paper, parts of which are quoted below, Dr Kurien showed clearly that if any group were in receipt of a major share of government subsidy, - it was the large scale highly capitalised vessels which were also the fishing units that had most impact on fish stocks.

The discussions on the issue of overcapacity and overfishing have engaged the attention of fishery experts in recent years. While much of the discussions have been targeted to industrial fishing operations, many attempts have been made to net small-scale fisheries into this ambit. Recent discussions at the WTO have focussed on subsidies as the main driving force behind the twins of overcapacity and overfishing. It has been said that clear proof of this arises from the fact that despite global fishing costs being higher than global fishing revenues, fishing fleets continue to fish.

In this brief presentation I wish to make two points. First I intend to highlight that this attempt to relate overcapacity and overfishing primarily to subsidies arises from a faulty understanding of the factors that promote fleet capacity building which in turn lead to overfishing. Secondly, I contend that if indeed subsidies were/are a major factor in underwriting losses in global fishery, then this is restricted to the industrial, large-scale fisheries operations. The small-scale fisheries are in no way beneficiaries of this largesse. The causes for overcapacity and overfishing in small-scale fisheries need to be sought elsewhere.

Table: 1 Break-Down of the Replacement Costs and Operating Costs of the Global Fishing Fleet (1989) Based on the FAO 1992 Calculations


Global fleet

Industrial fleet

Undecked boats











Replacement Cost

($ billion)








Annual Maintenance*($ billion)






($ billion)





Supplies and Gear*

($ billion)






($ billion)






($ billion)









(100 %)



(55.3 %)



(9.2 %)



(35.5 %)

(Note: Total Operating Costs are the summation of the costs marked with *)
Source: Calculated from Appendix Table 2,3,4 and 5 of the FAO- SOFA 1992 Report

Of the world’s over 3 million fishing vessels, a mere 1 percent of them were industrial vessels and they accounted for about 72 percent of the global capital replacement costs and 55 percent of the global annual operating costs. On the other hand, the 2 million plus undecked1 fishing boats which are in the developing countries and comprise 65 percent of the world fishing fleet, account for a mere 0.65 percent of the capital replacement value and only 9 percent of the annual global operating costs. As we are not able to provide a similar disaggregated analysis of the revenues (due to lack of data) it will be hard to make any affirmative statements about the gap between costs and revenues in the industrial fishing fleet and the undecked fishing fleet.

However, a simple calculation shows that for the undecked fishing vessels, the annual operating costs per vessel are about US $ 3000 per year. The FAO study further assumes that the undecked boats fished for 180 days in a year. This would imply a daily gross operating cost of US $ 17 only. It is hard to believe that the gross revenues per vessel would not be as much. This highlights that there is unlikely to be a deficit in their aggregate operations. Even if we assume that the world has an ‘overcapacity’ of undecked fishing boats, the argument that subsidies are the cause is hard to accept.

Similarly for the decked vessels the annual operating costs per vessel are about US $ 22,600 and using the same assumption of 180 days would imply a daily gross operating cost of US $ 140 only. Here too the possibility of a deficit in aggregate operations though possible is unlikely to be very significant. The presence of overcapacity in the decked vessels, though possible, is likely to be small.

Overcapacity and overfishing are real phenomenon in world fisheries today. We must take cognizance of it and also take all possible measures to bring it under control. Our effort in this presentation was to highlight that the paths by which global fisheries reached this state of affairs are complex. The current cacophony highlighting subsidies as the main villain actively prevents us from making a causative analysis of the problem. Moreover, it is unfair to treat all the fishing fleet of the world as being guilty of overcapacity and overfishing. A more nuanced understanding using the data provided by the famous FAO 1992 study reveals that a very small share of the world’s fishing fleets account for the larger deficit between costs and earnings of the global fleet. The small-scale fishing fleet (made up of undecked (artisanal) and decked fishing units), though they account for 98 percent of the world’s fishing fleet, can hardly be accused of large scale use of subsidies to build up overcapacity leading to overfishing. This is not to suggest that overcapacity and overfishing are not problems in themselves for small-scale fishing. The point is that the cause for it may have to be sought in more complex factors relating to markets, technology and institutions and not just the largesse arising from subsidies.” (Overcapacity, Overfishing and Subsidies: How do they relate to small scale fisheries? John Kurien, Pacific Rim Fisheries Conference, Hanoi, 2006)

Menachem Ben Yami lateral thinking and problem solving in fisheries

Menachem Ben Yami was brought up in Poland where he found himself in the Warsaw ghetto at the start of the Second World War. When the Nazis were rounding up Jewish families and containing them in that part of the city, he escaped at the age of 16 and joined a group of Jewish partisans survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Within the framework of The Polish Communist resistance young Menachem fought with them and some Soviet POW escapees, against the Nazi forces for a year and a half. He then joined the Jewish Brigade of the Red Army, and served with them on the Eastern front for another year. He was made a scout-sapper, with the duties of finding and clearing mines ahead of his regimental scouting squad. After recovering from a shrapnel wound in Soviet hospitals in Moscow, Menachem went back to Poland to join the Polish army from which he was demobilized after a couple of months for being too young for military service in the minds of the authorities there!

He then made his way to Germany from where he helped to bring Jewish survivors from the East to the UNRRA refugee camps in the American occupation zone. Later he was sent by the Haganah underground to Marseilles where at a maritime school he was trained to be a marine wireless operator. As such he boarded one of the illegal emigrant ships and made it to Israel. Swimming ashore one night he was arrested by British soldiers and put into an internment camp. He escaped from the internment camp and joined a kibbutz where he worked until the declaration of Israel’s statehood after which he fought in the war of independence in the fledgling Israeli Navy.

Once all that was over, Menachem realised it was time to get a profession and start a work career. He returned to his kibbutz near Haifa and took up fishing in the Mediterranean Sea. He was fortunate to find a Scottish MFV that had been based in Alexandria during the WW2 to serve as a firefighting vessel. Ben Yami purchased the boat and operated it for ten years, before moving for three years to the South Red Sea port of Massawa, thus starting his international career. He married a lovely young Jewish girl, Hannah, who had survived the Teresianstadt concentration camp, but had lost her parents and sister in Nazi death camps. Her two brothers survived by escaping from Germany during the war.

Although largely self-taught, Ben Yami could speak four languages, - Polish, Hebrew, Russian and English. (He later acquired some Italian and French). Studying fishery literature in the 1950’s he obtained copies of Soviet fishery texts. This was at the time when Russia was building fleets of factory trawlers, and sending them all over the world to fish (and possibly do other things as well). Menachem translated several of the Russian fishery books into English, and that was how I first came across his name, when I read these translations in the library of the Fishery College in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1965. The following year I was invited by Hilmar Kristjonsson, FAO’s chief fishery technologist, to undertake some work in his office in Rome, Italy. One evening there I was taken to a reception in the office of Roy Jackson, then Assistant Director General for Fisheries FAO. There was a very pleasant Israeli man there, on his way to a brief study period in the USA. I can still recall his boyish look and eager personality. That was my first meeting with Menachem Ben Yami.

We were to become great friends, my wife and I visiting him and Hannah at their home Kirjath Keirim, and entertaining them at our home in Scotland. Menachem took much pleasure in showing us around his country, including to the ancient fortress of Megiddo, and to his kibbutz which was most impressive.

He was to become a prolific fishery author, even produced computer programmes of data and formulas of use to fisheries technologist. Among his publications are a massive volume on purse seining, and several useful manuals on fishing with light, pair trawling, gill netting, and fishery community development. It was a pleasure for me to serve alongside him and even co-author some conference papers with him. We worked well together, and were given responsibility to help organise and stage FAO’s 1984 conference on small scale fisheries.

Menachem had the most creative and agile mind I ever came across. Each problem or issue was tackled with great enthusiasm. Lateral thinking was for him a speciality. He never tired of finding new ways to approach the challenges of fishery management, or of looking for ways in which technology might be adapted to address new needs. At well over 70 years of age, he is still in demand all over the world as a speaker and writer.

1 Fishing boats other than industrial class vessels can be broadly classified into two groups: decked and undecked. All the undecked vessels may be safely classified as artisanal fishing units as gear retrieval devices are technically difficult to use on them.

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