What’s the catch with the Greens?

A healthy catch unloaded on Shetland, where the social consequences of a discards ban could be devastating. Picture: GettyA healthy catch unloaded on Shetland, where the social consequences of a discards ban could be devastating. Picture: Getty
A healthy catch unloaded on Shetland, where the social consequences of a discards ban could be devastating. Picture: Getty
The ‘discards ban’ is typical of patronising policies that couldn’t be better designed to bankrupt sustainable fisheries, argues Simon Collins

ONE of the striking things about the “green” movement, from big-G political parties to environmental NGOs, is how little connect it has with anything actually green. “Greys” would be a better collective noun, reflecting the largely urban context in which these people operate.

Oddly, antipathy to Greens is strongest in the very places you would have thought they would have the most appeal: rural and coastal communities. In the admittedly limited sample of places I have spent my adult life – rural Hampshire, a remote hamlet in the French Alps, farming communities in Umbria and Languedoc, and now Shetland – Greens have never been popular.

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In some of these places, and especially where people have been close to the land or sea for generations, Greens are positively unpopular. Believe me, there is nothing more likely to raise the hackles of a struggling dairyman in Savoie or a fisherman in Shetland than the G-word. I suspect the same is true of farmers and fishermen all over Europe.

Perhaps the Greens do not find this odd at all. Perhaps they see themselves as bringers of the truth to ignorant, backward provincials. It would certainly fit with the patronising attitude of many of their representatives.

Patronising? Take the burning issue facing Shetland’s fishermen today – an unworkable “discards ban”, railroaded through the European Commission and Parliament by a well-funded Green lobby. And without even a pretence of consultation with the people most affected by it.

Ironically, the biggest opponents of discarding at sea – a practice actually promoted by the EU’s own regulations, remember – are fishermen themselves. The fishing industry would heartily welcome a sane management system that recognised the complexity of our marine environment; what it got was a simplistic response from bright, young and ignorant things that solves nothing.

It is not beyond the wit of man or woman to regulate fishing in our remarkably productive waters in a way that avoids discards. But designing the sort of management system that marries healthy fish stocks with the practicalities of sustainable catching is a fiddly business. It needs expertise, patience and an abundance of open-mindedness.

But this is where the Greens got involved: righteous zealots descending on Brussels with money to burn, much of it from shadowy American foundations and, incredibly, the EU itself.

In the land these people inhabit, doctrine matters more than experience, and proper consultation with those who actually know – fishermen, for example, with whole lifetimes of experience at sea – demands more humility than they can contemplate.

The result was a ban at discarding at sea – nothing wrong with dumping it on land, apparently – that could not have been better designed to bankrupt Scottish fishing fleets, operating in what are now some of the most productive seas in Europe.

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In Shetland, where fishing is the mainstay of a highly successful community that has precious few alternatives, the social consequences would be devastating.

All this because of simplistic rules, driven by people who do not know and never tried to find out. And now that the fishing industry, from Shetland to all points south, is engaging with governments in a bid to rescue something rational from the whole debacle, all the Greens can think to do is to try and block any progress. Open-mindedness is not what these fanatics do.

Sometimes you wonder whether fishermen, like farmers, have been singled out by the Green movement because they are easier to bully than multinational conglomerates. Either way, the backlash in communities such as ours, and among farming families trying to make the best of their own daft rules, is readily understandable.

So how did the Greens get themselves into this position? How is it that a movement that started off with the best of intentions has ended up doing its utmost to destroy perfectly sustainable businesses in remote communities?

Perhaps it has something to do with the places many of these people live. Take a look at the next pile of campaigning leaflets pushed through your letterbox the next time an election comes up. How many Green candidates actually come from anywhere, well, green?

I suspect there is something more fundamentally awry here. The new generation of activists – articulate, highly educated, urban, insufferably smug – has a fundamentally different way of seeing “nature” than the rest of us. For these Greens, humans and the natural world are two different things, and should be kept apart.

From where they sit, concrete all around, the natural world somewhere “out there” should be returned to some pristine condition, as they suppose it to have been before humans appeared.

This notion could hardly be further from what the rest of us know, and have known since the dawn of time – that there is no separation between these things, that we are not aliens, that our responsibility to the planet derives from an intimate relationship with it, not divorce.

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It is surely no accident that the few environmental NGOs that do have a real sense of responsibility to rural and coastal communities also have a strong physical presence in these same places. In Scotland, for example, the RSPB has excellent engagement with fishermen and farmers alike.

If it does not want to sink under the weight of its profoundly anti-rural, community-destroying fanaticism, the Green movement should consider following that example.

Simon Collins is executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association. www.shetlandfishermen.com

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