19 Jun 2013

Reforming Europe’s ‘broken’ fishing policy

It has been a busy week so far for fisheries minister Richard Benyon.

On Monday he stood up in the Commons to announce that he was well on the way to reforming the “broken” European fishing policy.  And on Tuesday, he went fishing.

It wasn’t exactly a leisure trip. He was meeting small-scale fishermen who are taking part in a scientific research project to tag and release sharks, skates and rays in the Thames Estuary. Channel 4 News tagged along too.

It is small scale fishermen like those along the south coast who campaigners have long argued lose out from the common fisheries policy that allocates catch quotas. They argue that too many fishing rights are allocated to large industrial-scale trawlers that operate in deeper waters.

Successive governments have long dithered over how to help them.

Mr Benyon gave me his first strong indication he agreed. “I do think there is a disparity between the sectors and I do think there is a job that needs to be done.”

The minister has been doing a lot of tough talking on fish policy – championing a ban on the practice of discarding fish.

A ban which now forms part of the reforms Brussels plans to implement. But bigger problems – such as who holds the quota, how that quota is managed and traded, and the fact much of Britain’s quota is held by foreign companies, are far from being fixed.

So is Richard Benyon going to get tough and go to war with the commercial fishing sector? “Well I’d hope we’ll be seeing more fishermen at the end of this,” he told me. “All of this couldn’t have been done if we were daggers drawn with the fishing industry.”

If only that were true.

Britain’s biggest fishermen are currently fighting the government in the High Court over an effort to re-allocate a very small amount of the overall fishing quota to smaller “under-10 metre” fishermen.

Even if the government wins, it would require the movement of a lot more quota to entirely revitalise an industry that has been losing jobs at a staggering rate.

An even thornier issue is trying to establish who actually holds British fishing quota. One analysis by campaigners Greenpeace suggests over half of Britain’s fishing quota may be being exploited by foreign vessels that bring little or no benefit to the UK economy.

Mr Benyon told me that he would publish a list of who actually holds what quota by the end of the year. But what he couldn’t answer was whether he would then act to take quota back from boats that don’t bring economic benefit to the UK.

Tony Talbot the skipper of the fishing boat that took the minister out summed it up nicely: “I’m 47 now. I’d like to carry on fishing until the day I die, but I can only do that if the system really is changed.”

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3 reader comments

  1. National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO) says:

    For the facts on Greenpeace’s flawed analysis mentioned above visit: http://www.nffo.org.uk/news/fishing_fact_fishing_fiction_2_2013.html

  2. Victoria bendall says:

    For more information about the Cefas & inshore fishermen scientific partnership project mentioned above, please visit our website http://www.sharkbywatch.org/ & facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sharkbywatchuk.

    Shark By-Watch UK, regional by-catch awareness of sharks and rays in the southern North Sea.

  3. Mogens Schou says:

    To-day low discarders (small scale gill net?) pay to high discarders (trawlers) Anybody made a calculation for themselves showing the benefit for small scale vessels of Catch Quota Management (CQM) where each Vessel “pay for his discard”. Here is one example Write me if you want the proper table.
    In the table below fleet 1 previously has landed 4.000 t. and discarded 3.000 t. It’s total quota allocation is reduced to 6.000 t under CQM. If it does not change behavior and the discards are below min. reference size it will lose 1.000 t. for the consumer market

    Fleet 2 has the same quota availability of 6.000. As it does not have full documentation it must “pay” 1.000 t deduction to cover calculated discards for that fleet segment. Still in this example fleet 2 has an outright gain of 1.000 t. and it may gain up to 1.000 t more if it can document all catches.

    Comparing present management with CQM
    Landing TAC/quota Unaccounted discards Catch TAC/quota
    Fleet 1
    Trawl (often large vessels) 4.000 3.000 6.000
    Fleet 2
    gill net (often small vessels)
    Discard deduction
    Net quota for fleet 2 4.000 1.000 6.000

    Total 8.000 4.000 12.000

    Both fleets are obliged to count all catches and land the fish. Let us assume that fleet 1 has full documentation (CCTV), consequently it will get the full catch quota. Fleet 2 do not have CCTV. As it cannot give a full account for all catches the catch quota is reduced with an amount equal to estimated discards.

    Still in this example fleet 2 can land more fish = 5.000 tonnes as it benefit from being a low discarder in the first place. Furthermore it has the carrot of 1.500 tonnes it may gain extra from fishing more selectively and improving catch monitoring – eventually moving to full documentation. Passive gear = small scale fishing gaining an advantage with CQM.

    Fleet 1 will lose 1.000 tonnes if it fish as usual, but may gain 1.000 tonnes if it improves methods/techniques. Again the right incentive.

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