Photo of Scottish White Fish Producers Association CEO Mike Park by Harry Cory Wright
The Ocean Awards' Projects award sought out the ocean project that has achieved the most in the past year. The winner was the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, which has had a direct impact on the increase of North Sea cod recorded in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea's stock assessment in 2015.
“I was at Rockall Bank as a 10 year old with the old line boats,” remembers Mike Park, whose career began as a fisherman but is now chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, which represents 170 individual vessels and 1,400 fishers with a collective turnover approaching €200 million. “How my father allowed it, I’m not sure, but I used to go out on boats at weekends and all through the summer holidays. After I left school I became a fisherman, and by 21 I had my first 25 metre trawler and a crew of eight. I was the youngest by 14 years and was expected to deliver by putting money in their pockets.”
But fishers know that their livelihood depends on there being fish in the sea. “Remember, ours is a brutal industry,” he continues. “You’re self-employed and you can only make money by being smarter, more ruthless and harder working than the next guy. Our industry is full of alpha males. It’s Darwinian. It’s survival of the fittest. Fishermen don’t necessarily want to be rich but they want to be richer than the guy next to them.”
Park therefore takes a pragmatic view of ocean conservation. “The Greens talk about a good environment being built on green credentials. I’ll deliver you the same built on business principles because the two come to the same point.”
Since 2010, the Scottish White Fish Producers Association has been remotely monitoring the discarding of cod by means of an onboard electronic system installed on fishing boats. The catch-quota scheme is still under trial and has fed into the recent reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, but fishers’ willingness to sign up to catch quotas indicates that they are open to pursuing new ways of operating. “If you can remove financial pressures, you remove archaic behaviour. That’s the essence of it,” says Park.
The Scottish White Fish Producers Association has also introduced a series of annual, seasonal closures to protect spawning aggregations at various times of the year and has worked to improve nets, promoting the use of those that reduce the capture of cod by 60 per cent. That the Marine Conservation Society removed cod from its list of “fish to avoid” last October is in part thanks to this.
Highly commended — Dr Jon Copley
Associate professor of marine ecology at the University of Southampton For – launching Exploring Our Oceans, a free six-week interactive online introduction to marine science, the only one of its kind, that has already been taken up by more than 10,000 students from all over the world.
Highly commended — Boyan Slat, CEO of The Ocean Cleanup
For – his design of a system involving floating barriers to capture plastic debris that has now raised almost $2.2 million towards funding the pilot phase. He hopes the first 2,000 metre system of barriers will be deployed in the Pacific in 2016.