23 December 2014
The Federation looks forward to its work programme for 2015.
You don’t need a crystal ball to foresee that 2015 will be dominated by preparations for the application of the landings obligation to the demersal fisheries from 2016. Major issues still have to be addressed. These include: the scale of the quota uplift to cover the unwanted catch that will now have to be landed; how the discard ban will be phased-in, and what exemptions should apply to which fisheries and species. Member states must submit their regional discard plans by June of 2015 for these to be turned into law by the Commission through delegated act. The NFFO is already at the centre of the debates within the North Sea and North West Waters advisory councils on the advice to member states on these issues and it is clear that there is much work to do.
The major focus on the discards ban for the foreseeable future will not mean however, that all the other issues confronting the industry will just go away.
Maximum Sustainable Yield
We successfully argued in the run up to the December Council that a blind adherence to the 2015 deadline for achieving maximum sustainable yield:
- Was not to “follow science” but to apply a political aspiration masquerading as science
- Would result in serious socio-economic consequences for some fleets if not handled very carefully
- Will have to be interpreted in a flexible way if it is to be of use in mixed fisheries and multi-species contexts
- These issues will recur and will have to be fought repeatedly. It’s not as though fishermen are against moving to high yield fisheries. Why would they be? But a legal obligation to set quotas in relation to a rigid MSY timetable carries a lot of baggage which must be dealt with carefully.
MSY as a slogan is one thing. People’s livelihoods are something else.
Over the last 12 months have seen some further movement away from the standard media portrayal of fishing in terms that are unrecognisable to anyone in the industry. Working with communications experts Acceleris, the NFFO has worked to counter media distortions as they arise but also to ensure that the many positive aspects of fishing get a fair airing. Flagship BBC programmes such as Newsnight, and the Today Programme, which to some degree set the news agenda, have carried interviews in which the Federation has been able to articulate a different vision of fishing, as an alternative to the tired narrative of an industry on the edge of the abyss. The Times too has produced some balanced pieces and our hake initiative and social media campaigns have received wide coverage. There is no sign yet that we can ease up on this front, so 2015 is likely to see additional initiatives, including a set of videos on fisheries science partnerships; the link between fleet diversity and food security; discards; and marine protected areas. We cannot afford to let the fishing industry’s opponents dominate the news agenda, especially as we now have such a strong and positive story to tell.
The inshore fisheries and under-10metre quota issues are complex and multi-faceted. This is, no doubt, part of the reason why progress in formulating official policy in this area is taking so long. Acute quota shortage can be seen in some parts of the pool at some times of the year and in some regions, although in other areas and times there is little to choose between PO and under-10m allocations. Generally, everyone needs and wants more quota but the issue of what allocation system to use, the extent to which the market has a role, when or if it is appropriate for Government to redistribute quota, from who to take it (and equally tricky, who to give it to), is a minefield.
Into the minefield has blundered Greenpeace, fresh off the plane from desecrating ancient and fragile Aztec symbols, to advocate their simplistic solutions for our fisheries. One thing in this complicated area is clear. Whatever quota redistribution would mean in the context of the under-10 pool, it would not involve their so-called “monster” vessels, for the simple reason that the fish the larger vessels in the fleet catch are well offshore, or in distant waters, inaccessible to the inshore fleet.
More likely, redistribution would involve reallocating from an 11 meter vessel to a 10 metre vessel. And would it be a factor if, in the past, the owner of the 10m vessel had sold his over-10m licence and quota and moved into the under-10m pool because it was less restricted? These, amongst many others, are the difficult issues surrounding redistribution of quota and why the Federation has advanced an alternative approach based on bringing effective quota management to that small part of the under-10m fleet (around 14%) which catches 70% of the under-10m pool allocations.
Only one thing in this field is certain: if the answer is Greenpeace, you are asking the wrong question, my friend.
Marine Protected Areas
The Federation and the Marine Protected Areas Fishing Coalition successfully argued that MPAs should be designated and managed on the basis of evidence rather than through a panicked tick-box exercise which does neither fishermen nor the marine environment any favours. Much detailed work remains however to ensure that establishing a network of marine conservation zones is a rational process, is informed by the best available science, and fully takes into account the interests of fishing businesses and communities.
We were very pleased that our initiative to bulk-purchase, grant supported life jackets (PFDs) and make them available to fishermen free or at nominal cost, was taken up by many other organisations. We hope that this will contribute to PDFs being worn routinely on deck throughout the industry. This was an important initiative but only one aspect of the NFFO’s work in this field, which covers all aspects of safety and training mainly through the work of our safety and training officer, Robert Greenwood.
The NFFO’s Shellfish Summit in Greenwich, in October, usefully focused attention on this important sector. Following up the conclusions of the Summit has already begun but will continue in 2015. Ring fencing the high-volume end of the fleet is in our view a precondition for putting the whole sector on a sustainable footing. Breaking the official inertia that has prevented forward movement on this and related issues will be a priority for the Federation in 2015 as will bringing some semblance of sense to the Western Waters effort Regime.
In this note we can only provide a flavour of the issues which the NFFO will be dealing with in 2015. Our Executive Committee will meet on 14th January to review the work ahead.