Ben's final resting plaice

03.05.18: FISHERMEN burying a friend at sea in south Devon yesterday also mourned their lost livelihood.

As they tipped the ashes of one-time trawlerman Ben Sharkham into the water off the former fishing port of Brixham, the bay was 'solid with jellyfish'.

'It was like we were tipping him on to a wet pavement,' said Dan Christophers, a retired skipper. 'It's not just Ben who's died,' he said. 'There's more life in a glass of tap water than there is in the sea.

'There's nothing left but jellyfish. We've taken everything, down to the very last sand-eel.'

All over the world it is the same story. Marine scientists say that fishery regulation in the late 20th century turned out to be part of the problem, not the solution.

When species such as cod or tuna were protected, the fishing fleets switched to smaller species lower in the food chain, using huge nets that raked the bottom bare.

The best of the inferior species were processed into crab sticks or what the trade calls 'generic fish products'. The rest were ground into meal for animals and salmon farms.

Selectively protecting the prime species did nothing to help them recover. 'It was like protecting cows but taking away all the grass,' said Christophers.

Calls for total fishing bans, to allow damaged ecosystems to revive, were ignored in the face of commercial and political pressures.

Today there are total bans on 75% of the world's seas. 'But what's the point?' said Christophers. 'There's nothing left for anyone to catch.'

After Sharkham's funeral, the mourners ate farmed salmon and bream, while speaking wistfully of wild cod, haddock and hake. 'Who can afford wild fish now?' said Christophers. 'It's luxury food.'

Is such pessimism justified? 'Yes and no,' said Clifford Beales, the food minister.

'With careful restocking from ocean ranches we should be able to restore most of the fisheries to something like their former health. But it won't happen tomorrow.' RG