Letter from Westminster 12.09.08

I CAN’T pretend to understand what the Large Hadron Collider, the £5billion machine buried deep beneath the Swiss French border, is all about but it is not difficult to see why it excites the scientists. The idea that we might be able to recreate the “big bang” is on so many levels compelling. It is almost as com­pelling as the idea that if somebody gets it wrong then we could create a black hole that would do for us all. If any of this misrepresents what the LHC is all about then I can only apologise. It is a level of science that is well beyond my understanding.

It is not, however, the only piece of science to take my attention recently. Fisheries science was well up the agenda last week when Jonathon Shaw, the UK fisheries minister, met local fishermen during his short visit to the county. As Josie Simpson put it to the minister, there has never been such a wide gap between the theory of what is in the sea to be caught (the quota) and the reality of what fishermen are finding when they haul in their nets. This is where the science comes in. The problem is that the data on which the scientific conclusions are based is two years old by the time that it is used to inform the decision making process. A lot can happen in two years.

It was put to the minister that what was needed was a “quick and dirty” analysis of the data gathered for the scientists. To his credit Jon­athon Shaw seemed to take this on board and has undertaken to see how this might be improved. It remains to be seen if anything will come of it but it does, I think, highlight the importance of keeping all our local industries engaged with government ministers.

The so-called “quick and dirty” analysis would have a very obvious quality control check in it and that would be the full analysis completed at the end of the day.

A move towards “real time” in­formation in fisheries science might not be a breakthrough on the scale of the Large Hadron Collider but it would nevertheless be a revolution in fisheries management. It might allow us at long last to tackle one of the most difficult and contentious issues faced by the industry, namely the dumping of good marketable fish back into the sea because there is no quota to land them.

This is something which brings the worst possible publicity for the industry and for the fishermen them­selves it is a heart breaking waste of time, skill and effort. It is supremely ironic that this is the consequence of a quota system created in the name of conservation.

Last weekend Kate and I took the boys to the family day at the Orkney Science Festival. One of the items on the programme was an examina­tion of fuzzy logic. I still don’t know what fuzzy logic is but surely even fuzzy logic must be better than no logic at all.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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