NFFO fires broadside over WWF court move Published: 23 March, 2007
A LEADING UK fishermens grouping has told WWF chief executive Robert Napier that the conservation groupings decision to take the European Council to court over cod recovery policy is misguided and regressive.
In an open letter, National Federation of Fishermens Orgnisations chief executive Barrie Deas contends that the WWF decision is driven by motives that are hard to discern, and if pursued, likely to be highly damaging to relations between fishermen and the WWF
“WWF has built up pretty reasonable relations with the fishing industry over recent years through a collaborative approach based on engagement. That is now jeopardised,” Mr Deas contended.
In the letter prompted by WWFs decision to take the European Council to Court for allegedly failing to follow ICES science and its own rules on cod recovery, Mr Deas says in his experience the law is an uncertain way to solve disputes.
And before proceeding, WWF should look to the wider implications of this course of action.
Mr Deas said the reasons why the Council of Ministers had felt unable to follow the cod recovery plan in recent years is that it has become increasingly obvious to most observers that the hastily agreed plan put into place in 2003 is flawed. This was a main theme in the recent cod symposium organised by the RACs (regional advisory councils) in Edinburgh in which WWF participated.Mr Deas went on:
There was a widespread view expressed at the Symposium that the top down, target driven approach that never seems to deliver what it promises, will not deliver cod recovery in the timescales or to the levels stipulated. Impressive evidence was also presented to demonstrate that cod has been the subject of a regime shift closely related to changes in the availability of a key planktonic component in the food chain. The question that WWF should ask itself is: Is it wise to force Ministers to follow a discredited plan?
The WWFs legal challenge is predicated on the argument that the Council of Ministers has failed to follow ICES advice. But as WWF participants in the RACs are well aware, the formal ICES advice is formulated to answer a particular question What will deliver cod stocks to precautionary levels in one year? It is axiomatic that the only possible answer to this question in the current circumstances is a complete closure of all North Sea demersal fisheries. Is this what WWF wants?
A different question such as: How can we achieve incremental increases in the cod biomass and move progressively to a fishing mortality consistent with cod recovery, would elicit a different ICES view. It is therefore important not to take an uncritical knee-jerk attitude to ICES advice.
The practical effect in the North Sea of WWFs court action, should it be successful, would be the reduction in the TAC set for 2007 in December. This would force the fleets, few of which target cod, into discarding cod at higher levels than will be the case with the 14% reduction agreed by ministers and Norway. Presumably ‘WWF Forces Massive Increase in Cod Discards’ is not the kind of headline that you seek. But that would be the practical effect if you were successful. At a personal level I am disappointed that WWF has chosen this course of action because it seems like a throwback to an earlier period of gesture politics. The NFFO and WWF have in recent years collaborated closely inside and outside the RACs. This requires a certain degree of trust and mutual respect. I dont think for example, that the ground breaking Invest in Fish Project would have happened if WWF had let it be known that collaboration with the fishing industry was a façade behind which WWF carried a big legal stick.To date, WWF along with Birdlife International have played a constructive and full part in the formulation of RAC policy. Although it has not been possible to achieve agreement on every point, the degree of consensus has been remarkable. It has been, in some respects, a reality check for fishermen to work with what had been considered their erstwhile adversaries. Likewise, the exposure of the green NGOs to the complexities of some of the policy issues has brought a new maturity and understanding. I think that WWF will have to choose, and quickly, between a collaborative approach and an adversarial approach, including legal confrontation. It will simply not be possible to have the kind of dialogue that we need to have within the RACs if the fishing members believe that the real game is being played elsewhere for example in the European Court of Justice.
“From the above you will gather that we consider WWFs decision to go to Court is misguided and regressive, driven by motives that are hard to discern, and if pursued, likely to be highly damaging to relations between fishermen and the WWF both inside and outside the RAC. WWF has built up pretty reasonable relations with the fishing industry over recent years through a collaborative approach based on engagement. That is now jeopardised. Its time to Choose or Lose.