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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