Scottish go-it-alone bid sparks major questions –

Scottish go-it-alone bid sparks major questions Published:  02 November, 2007

Fred Normandale

THE Chairman of the York-based National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has warned that fishing is too important to be used as a political football.

Fred Normandale also contends that it is too important to be left to politicians.

And if the Scottish administration is to insist on a separate quota and licensing system for Scotland, this is a change that potentially carries profound implications for fishermen both North and South of the border.

Commenting on a Scottish Government objective outlined in the November issue of FISHupdate magazine, Mr Normandale says that before such a drastic and possibly irrevocable step is taken, there should be a full debate within the whole of the UK fishing industry as to what it might mean.

“Details have been scarce so far, but it is precisely the detail of how such a system would work in practice that is of direct concern to all working fishermen, whether in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

“To start the debate, we suggest a number of questions that require answers before fishermen in any part of the UK can begin to judge whether separate quota and licensing systems are a good or bad idea.”

In 1998, Defra [then Maff] and the devolved administrations agreed that they would continue to operate “common policies” for quota management and fishing vessel licensing.

It now appears that the Scottish Government wishes to break with the existing arrangements and to have separate licensing and quota management arrangements for Scottish fishermen.

As yet, he says, there has been no formal consultation with stakeholders. Therefore it is impossible to reach a view on whether separation would be in the overall interest of the UK fishing industry, without a detailed explanation of how future arrangements would work.

To enable informed judgements to be made about separation, notably in view of the substantial investment that many have made in the acquisition of licences and quota, fishermen throughout the UK need to be aware of:

1. What the future rules for the operation of fishing vessel licensing and quota management would be for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;

2. Whether England, Wales and Northern Ireland would continue to operate “common policies”;

3. What the interface would be between the future arrangements for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, notably for trade [buying, selling, leasing, gifting etc] in quota and licences;

4. What the implications would be for related matters such as Western Waters and Deep Sea species effort limits and stock recovery measures; and

5. What the interface would be between the operation of separate quota and licensing arrangements within the UK and collective EU obligations, such as remaining within UK quota limits and complying with effort obligations.

Licensing, he says, is an EU requirement and is also the primary mechanism by which the four Fisheries Departments in the UK have regulated fishing activity by the UK fleet, including the sea areas that may be fished, the gear that may be used and the stocks that may be caught.

The licensing of fishing vessels in the UK has already been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. No further action is required to establish separate licensing regimes. It is assumed that the registration and safety of fishing vessels would remain a UK function and a matter for the MCA.

The real issue, he argues, is whether the four Fisheries Departments should continue to operate “common policies” that have allowed the free movement of licences within the UK industry. The “common policies” have evolved over a period of 25 years and embrace the restrictive licensing of fishing vessels and detailed rules governing the transfer and aggregation of licences including the imposition of capacity penalties. Restrictive licensing – Category A, B and C, pelagic, beam trawl, scallop and shellfish licences – limit the number of vessels and capacity directed at specified stocks.

It is far from clear what future changes the separation of licensing would entail for fishermen in Scotland and in the rest of the UK. For example:

1. Would it be possible to continue to transfer or to aggregate licences from English vessels to Scottish vessels and vice versa?;

2. Would Scotland or the rest of the UK be able to relax licensing restrictions currently operating? Would it be possible for Scotland to allow the unlimited aggregation of whitefish licences onto additional pelagic vessels, or to allow under 10 metre licences to be aggregated onto vessels over 10 metres, without the agreement of the other Fisheries Departments. Equally, could Defra scrap scallop licensing for English vessels or convert all category B and C licences to category A without the agreement of Scotland?;

3. Would licences issued by Defra to English vessels enable those vessels to fish in Scottish waters subject to the same restrictions as Scottish vessels, or would separate licences have to be issued by the Scottish Government, i.e. no reciprocity? If separate licences were required, would Scotland be able to restrict the issue to those English vessels that had a track record of fishing in Scottish waters? Could the other Fisheries Departments apply the same arrangements to Scottish vessels?;

4. What would be the read across to the operation of Western Waters and Deep Sea species effort restrictions – would separate limits/arrangements now apply to the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland fleets?;

5. What would be the implications for the operation of stock recovery measures for cod, hake, sole and plaice, and would these change if the EU moves from a gear based days at sea regime to kilowatts regime?; and

6. If there is to be complete separation and no provision for the free movement of licences within the UK, will the holders of licences, licence entitlements and dummy licences be given a once off opportunity to transfer their licences and entitlements [and assigned FQA units] from the jurisdiction of one Fisheries Department within the UK to another? There will be Scottish fishermen with boats registered and licensed in England and English fishermen with boats registered and licensed in Scotland who may wish to change their location for commercial/practical reasons.

Over 98% of the UK’s quota is allocated to individual fishing vessels on the basis of the FQA [fixed quota allocation] units assigned to all vessels in the over 10-metre fleet and to a very small number of vessels under 10 metres. The position is different for the under 10-metre fleet as a whole for which the Fisheries Departments hold collective pools of FQA units.

As with licensing, the Fisheries Departments have operated common policies for quota management since devolution on the basis of a detailed set of rules that have evolved over the last 25 years. The day-to-day management of over 95% of the UK’s quotas has been delegated to producer organisations, some of which have member vessels licensed by more than one Fisheries Department. Additionally, it has been possible for fishermen to trade [buy, sell lease, swap or gift] quota across the UK.

If separate arrangements were to be made, critical questions that need to be answered are:

1. Would the quota allocations for Scotland and the remainder of the UK be based on FQA units assigned to the fishing licences and entitlements currently issued by the four Fisheries Departments?;

2. Would a further round of reconciliation be permitted to take account of the various deals [quota transactions] that have been agreed but not reflected in adjustments to the FQA units assigned to licences?;

3. Would fishermen in Scotland be able to trade or swap quota with fishermen from other parts of the UK and vice versa?;

4. Would POs in Scotland and elsewhere b
e allowed to have in membership vessels that were licensed by more than one Fisheries Department?;

5. Would the territorial quota allocations for the under 10 metre fleet be based on the collective track records for the 1994 underpinning arrangements?;

6. What would be the repercussions for economic links?;

7. What would happen if Scotland were to overfish its quota share and the rest of the UK to underfish or be stopped from fishing so that the UK collectively remained within quota? Would a system of penalties and compensation operate at a territorial level?;

8. Would there be an opportunity in the run up to separation for vessels registered and licensed in Scotland to re-register and re-licence in another part of the UK and to take their FQA units with them?; and

9. How would the interface with the EU be handled in terms of quota swaps with other Member States, end year flexibility and deductions for overfishing and responding to infractions? is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.