The man hadn’t caught a fish for three years now. The retired businessman had fished all his life. His father had transmitted the passion to him in his youth. He could still remember the delightful days spent fishing off the wonderful west coast of Ireland, in County Clare where he had been brought up.
As a young boy, Mitch had grown up very close to his father; their tight relation was due in most part to the regular outings and adventures that often started at dawn and developed into long and dreamy days spent prospecting the rock-strewn shoreline. The coast was still full of fish in his youth; over 30 varieties could be caught from the rocks. Mitch and his father had been assiduous anglers, dedicated to perfecting their fishing technique and sharing a mutual enthusiasm for the latest available tackle.
He still possessed the high modulus carbon beach rod and the magnesium reel his father had given him on his eighteenth birthday and he remembered how he had marvelled at the easy casting and the amazing distances he could achieve with the combo.
The following years had seen a regular decrease in the quality of his catches: Cod had become smaller and scarce and Ben, the skipper of the local charter boat had not seen a Blue Fin Tuna in years.
By 2015 all that remained to catch was the occasional flatfish.
Mitch remembered how at the end of the millennium scientists had tried to warn the European politicians to lower the pressure on commercial fishing and accept their recommendation for enforced quotas and fleet reductions. The politicians at that time had preferred to surrender to the likes of the strong commercial fishing lobby led by the Spanish who owned 50% of the European fishing quotas.
Some anglers had tried to raise a voice, but they were few and scarce. The divided and unconcerned Tackle industry was too busy facing acute competition to devote time and funding to National and European representation.
The fishing federations were kept occupied organising their competitions. A majority of their officials were more concerned in using their position as a step-ladder for their political careers. The specialized media published the occasional worry but their readership was limited to recreational fishermen so the message never got through to the masses.
Recreational fishing had no place on television: The non-appealing image of the European angler was that of a chap, asleep over his fishing pole, down by the canal.
Who cared about anglers anyway! The world was embroiled in oil wars and debates about global warming. The political system kept the people happy by ensuring access to a massive choice of cheap consumer goods and maintained social peace through retail therapy and virtual entertainment.
Successive governments had never ceased to yield to the agricultural and commercial fishermen’s lobbies. The excess use of fertiliser had choked rivers and lakes by the exponential growth of green algae and aquatic vegetation. The problem had spread to the coastline and Mitch remembered how, some years, he had had to wade through thick layers of green slush that extended for miles along the coast. He remembered how it stank at the end of summer and how business had collapsed as the tourists abandoned the shores.
He could also recall that the decline in his regular catches had followed the never ending modernisation of the commercial fishing fleet. The final blow had seem to come from the development of the giant Seine fishing boats, using GPS markers placed upon individually caught Pelagic fish. After releasing the tagged fish, all the boat needed to do was to follow them until they rejoined the main shoal, surround the shoal with a two mile long net, close the bottom, and pump the tons of fish into the boat.
Bottom dragging trawlers such as rock hoppers and benthic trawlers had long before sterilised the coastal areas by destroying all living things on the sea bottom. The 85% by-catch ratios of this abominable technology had worried the scientists and the environmentalists but not the election-conscious politicians.
Expanding human population and the escalating demand for fish had reached a point where the need for food had threatened the stability of the fisheries but for the politicians, the solution to the problem had always been fish farming.
Fish farming had actually increased the problem as it takes five tons of wild fish to produce one ton of farmed cod. The industrial fishing for species to be converted into fish oil and fish meal had risen to totally unsustainable levels, and depleted all coastal stocks to well under the acknowledged minimum sustainable yields. The sparse remaining fish stocks had choked on the thousands of tons of Nitrogen-rich faecal waste generated by the numerous fish-farms. Harmful algal blooms had flourished in all the coastal waters.
It was about at the same time that the European politicians, in their search to regulate everything had yielded to the commercial fishing lobbies and pushed the European Nations into introducing sea fishing licences for recreational anglers.
Sea Anglers had to be controlled after all! They were competing with their subsidised European commercial fishing fleets for the last remaining stocks! These anglers were catching too much and had to be checked! The fact that the politicians were infringing on hundreds of years of civil liberties and free access to the wealth of the seas did not impede their need for regulation and the creation of more bureaucracy.
While the politicians instigated bag limits for the recreational sea anglers and funnelled the income generated from the licenses to compensation funds for the commercial fishermen, Fish Feed companies started looking further and further, sinking to greater depths in search of fish oil.
Fish oil prices reached 500 Euros a ton and continued to rise as the fish farms attempted to secure feed for their production.
Feed companies started harvesting sand eels, sprats, capelin, anchovies, herring, mackerel, blue whiting and krill. Fish feed was stock-piled by companies starting to foresee scarcity of supply. Bio technology rushed towards finding feed substitutes such as vegetable protein, wheat, and soy. Unfortunately they quickly found out the impossibility of turning a carnivore into an herbivore.
Mitch saw it all, he had been so passionate about fishing that he had opened a Fishing Tackle shop in his hometown back in 2005 when the economy was booming in Ireland and the new emigrant workforce was delighting in the quality of the fishing available to all.
He had had half a dozen good years and then, many of his customers had just started losing interest. The decrease in the quality of the fresh water fishing caused by the excess use of manure in the local fields and the various diseases proliferating within the fish farms; the green algae on the coast and the general lack of fish: All this had finally driven the regular anglers to hang up their tackle for the last time.
Mitch kept his Tackle Shop open for as long as he could. In the early days, Fishing Tackle companies were plentiful and many small businesses thrived on the sales of Tackle. Then, as the market shrank noticeably from year to year, only the large international brands remained present through their subsidiaries.
The Irish, British and European brands had just disappeared. The fishing was still good in some areas of the world. Some lucky anglers could afford a trip to some far-away still fishy waters but the majority of anglers just moved on to other leisure activities.
A regular reader of the industrial trade magazines, Mitch had noticed how little interest the European companies had shown in investing into their future and fighting for the preservation of their business environment. Some individuals spoke out occasionally but their voices just seemed to echo in the dark. They were all, it seems, waiting for someone to do something about the upcoming problems; they even showed sporadic concern, but unity, association, representation, segmental mutual interests remained less important than bottom line and short-term gain.
It amazed Mitch that a multi billion Euro industry, comprising tackle suppliers, boat manufacturers, tourism and travel could be so oblivious about the imminent collapse of its market. Other outdoor sports such as shooting still thrived but then, they had got their act together back in the eighties, as soon as they had felt the pressure.
Anglers, Angling Trade and other related economic agents had just let go, divided until the end.
So, that morning, as Mitch opened his cupboard to retrieve his tackle, he hesitated, thought for a moment and reached for his golf clubs instead.
He had been the last fisherman in Ireland.
Louis Tchertoff 2007-04-25