Thursday, 10 May 2012

6th World Fisheries Congress, Edinburgh.

In typical Rachel-form I have this post and a few others in draft form that are in dire need of completing and publishing. Also in typical Rachel-form, I got far too exciting about the 6th World Fisheries Congress that I have just volunteered at and subsequently my post about the coral reef monitoring programme shall have to wait.

So, it all started when I received an e-mail from my supervisor at the University of York with a great opportunity. Reading the e-mail I became pretty damn fixated on the idea of me travelling up to Edinburgh for a few days and volunteering, both gaining some valuable experience and doing a fair bit of networking on the side. I immediately sent an e-mail to Angela from Congrex saying I was interesting, and felt a little disheartened when I didn't hear anything back. I assumed that the places were filled and they wouldn't require my services. Shame really, I would have loved to have done it.

A week or so later I received an e-mail saying that I had been chosen to be part of the volunteering team. Getting a little excited about the prospect of helping out at such a prestigious event (and obtaining a rather fetching blue t-shirt) I booked my train tickets, booked my accommodation for two nights and waited ever so patiently for the day to arrive. Now, for me to say I wasn't nervous about travelling up to Edinburgh on my own, meeting new people and rooting around for some confidence would be a complete lie. I was terrified! I do tend to have a pretty nervous disposition and as such rarely put myself out there and grasp life's opportunities by the horns. Why? Because I just stick my head in the sand. I knew that this opportunity was something I needed to go for. The 6th World Fisheries Congress is the olympic-event of the fisheries sector. It comes around once every 4 years and this was the first time it had entered UK waters.

So, Monday arrived and I was sat on the train. I'd forgotten my coffee which was a bit of a pain (hey, that rhymes). The journey itself was only 2 and a half hours long and I arrived in good time. I could have left at Waverely and walked to the hostel (20-30 minutes walk), but I decided to stay on and get off at Haymarket instead (1 minute walk to the hostel). Fabulous. Silly me didn't check the check-in time at the hostel so when I arrived at 11am-ish they couldn't check me in and I was left feeling a daft. I was able to leave my case in their laundry room which made things better and I proceeded to have a mooch around Haymarket before meeting the rest of the volunteer team at 1pm at the EICC.

The Edinburgh International Conference Centre, EICC. 
I had a twaddle inside and immediately felt nervous again. I signed in to the building, let them know I was a volunteer, picked up a t-shirt or two, grabbed my name tag that I had to wear at all times and went to get changed before joining the other volunteers for a briefing. I couldn't resist when it came to taking a cheeky photo of me in my gear. Excuse the toilet behind, it was the only mirror that I could get access to.

A little bit 'scene' but I couldn't care less - me and my fetching t-shirt and name tag (the wrong way round as it spent most of the time...)
T-shirt logo and the lovely shark keyring/bottle opener in the goody bags.

After the briefing we were given our training on the Congrex computers. My job was on the pre-registration desks alongside a few others. We were the first people that the delegates would meet upon entering the EICC and so it was important that we provided service with a smile (as per). The system was very easy to use, we had to lookup delegates based on confirmation number (that very few actually had) or surname (thankfully everyone has a surname so there was no problem here... Most of the time).

My lovely desk with a touch-screen monitor and a rather annoying keyboard.

Pre-registration on the Monday officially opened at 3pm, so shortly after the delegates came drifting in through the doors and guided to our desks. Easy peasy. They were checked-in on the system, name badges were printed, Duchy bags were handed out (with various goodies inside) and they were sent on their way, either to the New Registrations/Accounts desk (if there was an account query) or to the Tours and Social desk if they had a ticket to be exchanged.

Duchy Originals - Itchy, kind of smelly and moulted - A nice touch either way.

Drinks were being served at 7pm for the Welcome Reception downstairs in the Exhibition room and, as expected, 6.45pm proved the busiest time for the registration desks. Delegates were flooding in and it was an absolute mission trying to get through everyone. Thankfully we finished at 7.15pm and some of us made our way downstairs to meet and greet the delegates and have a really good mooch around the Exhibitions.

It was actually a really good opportunity to get some vital networking done. I walked around with one of the other volunteers who is significantly more confident then I am and basically followed like a little lost sheep most of the time. We spoke to Natural England for a long time which was nice (since I am working with them in July) and it has given me an idea to enquire about some graduate positions/ work experience within the North-West. After more networking, a glass of wine and a bottle of beer I was ready for bed (honestly, you try doing a long day on your feet talking to a lot of people and eating very little). By 9pm we were allowed to leave and I made my way back to the hostel for a good night's kip (... I wished).

I was up again at 5.45am (joy of joys) and after a pretty horrific night's sleep (being woken up by a lady on the lower bunk either a) snoring or b) sleep-talking rather loudly) I really did not want to drag myself out of bed but, alas, needs must. Also, today was a pretty big day since we needed to prepare for our 'special guest'.

Welcome to the 6th World Fisheries Congress
 The Opening Ceremony began at about 10am and was pretty impressive, I have to admit. We all piled into the biggest room in the EICC. I managed to wade my way through masses of people alongside two other volunteers so we could park ourselves on the second row from the front on the left hand side. Perfect spot. I thoroughly enjoyed Ray Hilborn's talk, mainly because he talked about the environmental effects of fisheries from a whole different stance. He basically suggested that the environmental costs of NOT fishing would cause a lot of stress for terrestrial habitats and cause a greater degree of biodiversity loss than if fishing took place. It was interesting since I hadn't really thought of it like that. The dilemma that we are in at the moment is that of food security. We have the challenge of sourcing food to feed nearly 7 billion people. If we take away one of the world's greatest suppliers of protein - fish - out of the equation then we need to find alternative sources, simple as. Based on a few of the statistics readily found on the web he made an interesting point regarding this, that in order to replace the world fish production by grazing at world average grazing productivity we would need 139km-squared of grazing lands.

Putting this into perspective, Hilborn provided an example of what this could do. The Peruvian anchoveta fishery has been extensively fished for years, yet to replace this fishery and supply the same amount of protein from land-based agriculture it would result in a vast amount of deforestation in order to allow for the extensive numbers of farmland that would follow. This, sadly, means that over 4500 orang-utans a year would suffer. Now, I'm not one for ignoring the 'little species' and focussing on the larger-than-life charismatic animals but he has got a point. Stopping the fishing industry completely would be incredibly detrimental to the longevity of terrestrial ecosystems and cause a serious decline in biodiversity.

Delivering his speech. Image by MarineLink (
Those present in the opening ceremony were also privy to a talk by none other than HRH Prince of Wales. Prince Charles gave a rather passionate speech (I thought so anyway). His keynote speech can be found here.

In between the mingling, actually doing the job at hand and serving the needs of anyone who required assistance, I managed to see a few of the talks. One of which was about the CFP Reform, the panel being Richard Benyon, Lowri Evans, Richard Lochhead, Tony Long and Julio MorĂ³n. The session I saw was set out much like the BBCs Question Time where a panel answered a series of questions asked by the audience. I only popped in for the last half an hour but it was interesting to say the least. I managed to hear about their views on discards and the discard-ban, and also about subsidies. Now I was trying to tweet furiously (as were several other of the delegates as I realised). Whilst most of what I was saying probably sounded like complete and utter rubbish (I just don't know enough about it).
"Stopping discards are good but need to maintain biomass in oceans and thus focus on what is being landed rather than protein landed"
I met some wonderful people during my two days there. I was honestly gutted that I didn't feel well enough for my final (3rd) day but I learnt a lot and feel like I have come away from a fantastic experience. I just hope the 7th World Fisheries Congress is within the EU and that I can hopefully volunteer in the next four years... We shall see.


  1. Thank you for the blog Rachel. I have been googling around for an inside perspective on the event, as I wasn't able to go. I have to say I found Ray Hilborn's perspective a bit odd?! Seeing as he is a marine biologist and conservationist. It is almost as if he is saying we should simply continue to fish and fish hard to feed the planet and thus protect terrestrial bio-diversity. Hurrah. But, that strikes me as very short sighted. I mean, no-one (no-one I have ever heard) is saying that fishing should stop completely. Fish protein is universally regarded (as he says) as an extremely valuable global resource BUT it urgently needs to be managed to sustainably so that it can continue to provide. Of course fishing must continue, but it must be managed. If people in the west will insist on eating animal protein, then of course if is not avaible from the sea, then farming practices will cause even greater problems for the ocean that they already do. However, I think all people are asking is that the ocean's resources are managed properly, not that fishing must stop. 'Eat fish or baboons will die' seems like quite a short-sighted, inflamatory and damaging message for people to take home. Disappointed. Perhaps I misunderstood.

    1. Hi there,

      It was a little odd, yes, but it was interesting to hear it from that way. I do Marine Environmental Management and a LOT of what I have heard has been concerned with "we need to stop fishing completely" (that being said we have a lot of vegetarians and vegans on my course, the lecturers don't say this).

      I don't think you misunderstood, no, but I think the way I talked about his talk was totally biased. I didn't give a review of his WHOLE talk (mainly because silly me forgot a pen and paper and the only way I could take notes was to take photos of his presentation whenever I could). I just found that this was the main bit that stuck out. Of course, he was referring back to his paper opposing Worm et al. 's paper stating that all of the fish will run out by 2045 and all we'll be left with is jellyfish burgers. Hilborn, on the other hand, said that actually the way we're going the sea is going to be full of blue-fin tuna (I don't know how serious he was being, maybe he was just making a point that the problem isn't as serious as we first thought).

      BUT, in my opinion, I think the problem IS as severe. Okay, we're probably not going to run out of fish per se, but populations are going to drastically change unless we can effectively and efficiently manage the world's fisheries.

      I've rambled, sorry, I admit that I don't know as much as I should. I only attended as a volunteer having nearly-completed my Masters.

      Thank you for your comment!