Portia’s Law

I’ve been thinking about the Sea:

It’s a harvesting issue…

There was, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, a very smart (proto-feminist) ‘lawyer’ who needed to get her friend out of a hole.

Her friend had offered a pound of his own flesh if he couldn’t pay his debts (he was very confident of his ability to pay). When disaster struck, his creditor claimed the pound of flesh – ‘nearest the heart’ and brought his own knife. Of course, the creditor knew that debtor, her friend, would die…

Portia (the name of the lawyer) agreed wholeheartedly that the flesh was due – but noted that there was no mention of blood. She observed that if, in the taking of the flesh, any blood were shed the creditor would lose his own life as the penalty for conspiring to kill the friend.

My point?

The flesh in this story is the quota of individual species which fishermen are granted. The blood is the by-kill. That is to say, the fish taken in by crude fishing techniques and often either thrown away or turned into protein for other animals (even fish) to eat. Often, the by-kill includes immature fish from other species which will now never grow to renew the shoals of the oceans. Often it includes apex predators such as sharks. Often it leaves shattered acres of seabed, as rockhopper driftnets smash their way across it.

It’s as if you were culling antelope on the Serengeti with a bomb which killed everything from Lions to grasslands themselves. If we could see it, it would scandalise us.

Portia’s Law: you can have the fish in the quota. But not a drop of by-kill. And just as the creditor had to surrender his knife, the gear which kills outside the quota must be surrendered for ever and destroyed.

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