Politicans, fish, games & Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – three of my favourite things

Despite the fact that my son was once attacked by a shark, I love fish, games and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Politicians, not so much.

Boy eaten by shark west of London

Boy eaten by shark west of London

Watching the excellent Hugh’s Fish Fight tonight probably filled most of the viewers with horror. Seeing so many perfectly valuable fish being thrown, dead, over the trawler because the fishermen catching them didn’t have any quota left for a particular species was sickening. Fishermen go out to see, drop nets, and try to catch the fish they are allowed to, take them to shore and sell them. the problem is, as one fisherman quite rightly pointed out,

“You can’t put a sign on a net telling the wrong fish to keep out.”

How ridiculous. Terrible politicians in Brussels we say. (God knows what the Daily Mail would say – “Does the EU give fish cancer?”, perhaps). I personally am sympathetic to a point with the rule makers though.

They seem to be victims of the laws of unintended consequences. A brief summary:

  • Cod, and many other species of fish were almost extinct in the North Sea and elsewhere.
  • The EU passed laws giving fishermen quotas to protect all sorts of species of fish.
  • Fisherman are not allowed to land more fish than their quotas allowed.
  • If a fishing boat has caught its quota of, say cod, it is not allowed to land any cod it catches over quota. Those cod are thrown back into the sea.
  • Fish stocks rebounded – perhaps because of quotas, perhaps because of other factors – legislation governing net sizes, banning fishing in some places, for example.

“The size of the spawning stock in 2008 was just 49,941 tons. During the cod boom of the 1970s, the figure was more than 250,000 tons. It fell below 70,000 for the first time in 1999 and reached its lowest level, 28,921 tons, in 2006.”Daily Telegraph, January 2009.

  • Some fishermen report there is more cod in the North Sea than there has been for over 35 years today.
  • Fishermen however, are now having to fish for far longer – 10 days instead of 5 days to fill their boats as they are having to throw huge quantities of discard fish overboard. Discard is the term for fish that must be thrown overboard because the boat has hit quota.
  • Fisherman are working longer and longer to make a living and having to destroy much of their harvest in the process.

Immoral and horrible to see, but I think that the laws have been made for good reasons. They just haven’t been able to respond to a rapidly changing and dynamic system.

I wonder whether the games industry could offer politicians a helping hand in understanding the consequences of their legislation? The fishing industry can be modelled relatively easily – there are Facebook games that have more complicated algorithms governing the interactions between objects in the system. Surely this is a great example of a problem that the games industry could provide massive value to the world by helping lawmakers understand the consequences of implementing their laws and could model the effects of changing all sorts of things from changing net sizes, to quotas, to giving fishing boats the option of trading the fish they catch over quota to other boats?

2 responses to “Politicans, fish, games & Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – three of my favourite things”

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