THE National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has described a decision by UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, to reject demands for an independent review of the Marine Management Organisation’s fisheries functions as a ‘mistake’.
Replying to a Federation open letter, Eustice argued that while there may have been problems with the MMO in the past, they were now on the way to being resolved.
However, the NFFO is clearly unhappy with that response. It says MMO chief executives had come and gone but the organisation was still showing shows no sign of getting a grip on its central functions.
An NFFO statement said: ‘The Minister seems to show little awareness of the breadth and depth of the malaise affecting the body that holds fishermen’s livelihoods in its hands.
‘Fooling himself that all is well in the essentials is to gamble with those livelihoods. The catalogue of problems is too wide and appears to be too deep seated, to be dismissed with soothing words.
‘They include data-collection and data-management, quota and effort management, vessel (satellite) monitoring systems and electronic logbooks, as well as the administration of EFF grants.
‘When a former DEFRA Director of Fisheries takes the view that papering over the cracks in the MMO won’t work and that an independent review is required, it is time to listen.
‘When numerous members of Parliament expressed the same view, as they did in the recent annual fisheries debate in Westminster, it is clear that a review is overdue.
‘You can’t help but have some sympathy for the MMO in all this. It is a body which had to start almost from scratch when in the transition from the Marine Fisheries Agency to Marine Management Organisation, and in the shift from London to Newcastle, it lost most of its staff and therefore, experience.
‘It was also unfortunate in losing, in short order, both its first chairman and its first chief executive, after some kind of personality clash got out of control.
For a long period there was a standard denial of any kind of deep seated problem although the evidence pointed elsewhere.
‘Since then, it has not been possible to fault the MMO, either for acknowledging that there are indeed a range of fundamental problems and for their willingness to address them.
‘The difficulty lies in the lack of actual visible progress. Assurance has followed assurance but the problems on the ground remain legion and now forward progress can be seen.
‘Political decisions lie at the heart of the MMO’s problems and we consider that it is going to take a political decision to fix them.
‘This is why a short, authoritative, independent review is necessary. If the MMO cannot heal itself, it is vital that the Government intervenes to put things on track.
‘We cannot continue stumbling on with a dysfunctional delivery and enforcement agency, and with soothing words that add up to nothing.’
The Federation argued that, given the multiple challenges facing both the industry and the fisheries management systems posed by the impending implementation of the EU landings obligation, there was no time to lose in getting the MMO into a state that it can meet those challenges.
‘An independent review would be the quickest way to identify the underlying issues and get the MMO on to the road to recovery,’ it maintained.