Four meetings to come in NUFTA's tour of English ports –

Four meetings to come in NUFTA’s tour of English ports Published:  16 June, 2011

WITH four meetings yet to come, NUTFA’s tour of English ports continues to ensure that inshore fishermen have a clear understanding of the proposals and a platform to make their views known to Defra.

Speaking for the New Under Tens Fishermens Association, Jerry Percy commented that while it is impossible to cover everything said by the hundreds who have attended the range of meetings they have held around the coast so far, they have already filled three large report books with a record of proceedings and there are a number of common threads emerging.

He said: “It is entirely clear that NUTFA’s decision to embark on the tour was the right one, for a number of reasons, not least being that there was amongst fishers a great deal of both concern and confusion over the consultation process and the potential effects of Defra’s proposals. The level of discussion and debate has been excellent and although Defra’s presence at the majority of meetings has been welcome, the reaction by many present has shown the high level of frustration, not to say anger, at both past failures of allocation and management as well as the current unacceptable situation.

“The crux of concern revolves around the clear danger to under ten metre fishing businesses of allocating FQA’s, based on a severely restricted track record provided by first sale buyers rather than fishermen themselves, that locks fishermen into a future fishing pattern based on past performance.

“Any number of examples emerged, from the arrival of Haddock in the south west after a gap of many years, importantly during the reference period (2007 – 2010), that would mean that local fishermen would have to lease in quota to be able to fish the stock, through to the present and future access to available species that will be affected by climate change, as well as the spatial changes likely to be wrought by the loss of grounds to windfarms and the imposition of MPA’s.

“Many fishermen at the meetings put their hands up to maintain the status quo related to the flexibility provided by the current pool system, and against the closed approach of FQA’s. Almost everyone concerned was worried that under tens would end up, like so many over tens presently, beholden to faceless quota “owners” demanding an ever increasing payment from working fishermen to be permitted to make a living.

“A major part of the problem is that Defra are unable to give even a general level of likely allocation to individual fishermen. Also the allocation would likely be reduced through a reduction in the overall pool of fish available. In the event that there was, as will be vital, an effective appeals procedure for the great number of fishermen with a justifiable reason to be given fish through a restricted or curtailed track record, as well as FQA’s that will be based on the initial under ten allocation, rather than the final amount available in any one year, which in some cases can be only a third of the annual total. So it’s hardly surprising that fishers are less than enthusiastic with regard to the main element of the proposals.

“At the same time, there was a general view that the status quo in relation to the current allocation and management was also unacceptable and NUTFA will be continuing negotiations with the Minister, based on a very clear mandate from inshore skippers the length and breadth of England.

“A helpful addition to the discussions within the more recent meetings has been the publication of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report.

“Far from being superficial, ill timed, quick and dirty as suggested by the NFFO, the vast majority of working skippers attending our meetings welcomed the Committee view that national quota should only be held by working fishermen.

“If, as Barrie Deas suggests, quota in the hands of other than working fishermen is nothing more than a “marginal problem” then can we have it back please?

“So plenty for both working fishermen and Defra to consider within the consultation. It’s clear from the meetings that the under ten sector both needs and deserves a fairer share of the national quota, the ability to diversify according to what comes their way as we can’t chase fish but have to wait for it to come to us, and more effective management of what little we have available at the moment.

“It has also been clear from comments that this is generally considered to be the last chance for the under tens to gain any improvement on the historic imbalance of allocation. The central suggestion from Defra of individual FQA’s may have been more acceptable in the event that it was not to be based on what has been a massively restricted access to fish through RBS and then further reduced via initial allocations and the outcome of what will have to be a fair and open appeals process to provide at least a notional track record to those large number of fishermen who have bought, sold or changed their vessels in recent times and unknowingly sold away their own track records.

“With regard to Defra’s ideas for shellfish management, similar concerns relating to track records, or the lack of them, restricting opportunities for diversification and  attempting to introduce a failed fish quota system to the shellfish sector were forcibly expressed by any number of fishermen.

“And finally, from the ports of the east and north east of England across to the far south west, one other message has come over loud and clear; there is far more fish on the grounds than the science would suggest and there is an urgent need for some fast track studies to play catch up and avoid the level of needless discards that this imbalance has created. NUTFA have recently been invited to contribute to the Fisheries Science Partnership process and any number of under ten fishermen have offered to provide assistance to augment the scientists understanding of the inshore stocks.

“Despite the concerns expressed so forcibly by fishermen around the coast with regard to Defra’s proposals, I have been enormously heartened by the resilience of all those who have attended, their willingness to engage and consider the wider issues facing us all and the warmth and gratitude expressed by so many of them for NUTFA’s efforts on their behalf.

I’m looking forward to the last group of meetings next week where I am sure that fishermen at those venues will continue to provide the level of engagement shown by their colleagues so far.”

The remaining meetings are on:

· Monday 20th June at Hastings – East Hastings Sea Angling Association on The Stade

· Tuesday 21st June at Shoreham (Sussex Yacht Club, 85/89 Brighton Road, Shoreham-by-Sea, BN43 6RE)

· Wednesday 22nd June at Poole (Arndale Court Hotel, 62 Wimborne Road, Poole BH15 2BY)

· Friday 24th June at The Fish Hall, The Harbour, Whitehaven,CA28 8XY

All meetings, drop in anytime from 2pm to 8pm with a more formal presentation around 6pm.