Juiced-up MPs and the bewhiskered nature of scientists…
I once met Austin Mitchell a former Labour MP, who died recently. He had travelled to Aberdeen’s Marine Laboratory soon after the Millennium as a member, I think, of the UK Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on some sort of fisheries fact finding mission. We met with the Committee in the afternoon after it had earlier held talks with leaders of the Scottish fish catching and processing sectors.
The Marine Lab commonly hosted such gatherings in its net store where there was room to set up display panels and examples of different fishing gears. After my presentation I meandered to the back of the room to observe the rest of the event from a distance. Soon after that I became aware of a distinctly inebriated presence sidling up to me. It was Mitchell who, in the vernacular of the day, ‘had enjoyed a good lunch’.
As the presentations continued at the front, he quietly asked me about fishery discards and what did I think of the Norwegian fishery discard ban; could such a thing work in European waters? I whispered that I’d recently reviewed the Arctic Fisheries stock assessment working group report in my guise as the UK member of the ICES Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management and told him it made clear that its catch data were quite uncertain due to unreported (illegal!) landings and an unknown quantity of discards despite the discard ban.
I explained that the true discard rate was unknown because the Norwegians had no means to measure it. Their logic seemed to be that discarding was not allowed, ergo it wouldn’t happen, ergo there was no need to monitor it (they do prosecute a handful of cases each year, but inspection and monitoring are quite different activities with differing requirements and processes).
(To be fair to the Norwegians, the discard ban is accompanied by a package of permanently or seasonally closed areas, and some real-time area closures when the likelihood of catching undersized fish or exceeding legal by-catch limits is beyond some specific threshold criteria.)
Anyway, I finished by telling Mitchell that the Norwegian scientists knew as well as I did, and as did many others, that when it came to disposing of any unwanted or illegal catches “in Arctic waters the nights are long and the waters deep!”.
Mitchell guffawed loudly and exclaimed merrily (and just as loudly) “Ah, not just a scientist, but a poet as well!”.
After that he nodded towards a couple of scientists and engineers at the front, and jovially asked “Do you have to have a beard and be bald to become a fisheries expert?”
As I also had a beard, but had not yet started to thin ‘on top’, I told him a beard was mandatory, but that baldness was optional (like integrity in politicians, but I lacked the courage to say that).
There once was a drunken MP
Went to a marine lab to see
If all scientists were weird
And bald with a beard
And they were, I’m sure he’d agree!
Postscript: I found an interesting quote on the current status of Norwegian fishery discard estimates. The relevant paper explicitly includes unknown discard rates in the estimation of total unreported landings; an acknowledgement that Norwegian fisheries and their management are not as virtuous as their sanctimonious political headlines would sometimes have us believe!