A recent report by the University of West of Scotland (UWS), which sought to accesses and compares the fisheries management systems of our Nordic neighbours.
To access their applicability to the UK post-Brexit, has highlighted one crucial point that must be at the forefront of the government and MPs minds when it comes to implementing new British policy post Brexit.
That is the social administration of the nation’s resources and whether this is done to squeeze maximum profit from the nations resources or in a manner that pays heed to the importance of fishing to rural coastal communities as well as the nation’s balance sheet.
Transferable Quotas and British FQAs
The report notes that Iceland socially administers its quota as a very corporate affair where quota entitlement can be bought and sold commercially.
It is great that the report acknowledges that corporatizing quota through a system of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) as in Iceland (and New Zealand) drives consolidation of quota and the nations resources into a few big companies hands.
This has resulted in the death of coastal communities and young entrants who see no prospect of being able to enter a monopolised system of entitlements to resources. We are on the same highway to hell with the UK system of saleable quotas to divide out our paltry EU share.
Previous UK governments compounded the ineptitude of the CFP by administering Britain’s dismal share from the EU of quotas for species in our waters in a similar manner. This was done through a system of tradeable Fixed Quota Allocation (FQA) entitlement units. These FQA units act as entitlement similar to shares for stocks in the city.
The British industry is already on the slippery slope towards consolidating into a small company fleet. As the industry buckled under EU mismanagement the ability to trade entitlement to the nations resources has led to consolidation of fishing resources to a few bigger interests who have the firepower to consolidate entitlement within an industry being crushed by the failures of the CFP.
Continuing with such a system of allocating resources that compounds the miserable ineptitude of a quota system that has failed in its inapplicability to manage mixed fisheries would be mad environmentally and politically.
Especially so given the reason people voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in fishing and coastal communities was to have the ability to escape from and reform such a system that has only worked for a very few – something MPs dependent on votes in coastal constituencies should remember.
It is anything but economically healthy for any business large or small to have an industry having to continually expend a high proportion of what should otherwise be profit on having to buy (or futility rent quota) just to maintain parity in a failing system.
One cannot blame anyone for taking the only path open to survive in the CFP but post Brexit it is important that any UK government takes the chance to start afresh with a management system that not only works better economically and environmentally but which allows a future that is inclusive of the largest and the smallest.
A hybrid system of refined effort control and quotas as FFL advocates would achieve this by giving all time at sea but preserving and incorporating FQAs into such a system maintaining investment in them.
Norway and Social Administration of a National Asset
As the report highlights Norway administers in a far more community based manner with a more social approach to administering a national asset for communities in Norway. This is commendable and should be payed heed to in post-Brexit policy regardless of what system of management is used in different fisheries be they shellfish, whitefish or pelagic.
It is welcome that there is acknowledgement by the majority of this situation that FFL has tirelessly sought to highlight. It is vital that any British system ensures that, as in Norway, fishing entitlement is linked to communities and as the report recommends that fishing entitlement cannot be sat on by slipper skippers.
As in Norway it should be on an active vessel and if you do not use it you lose it. Having folk speculatively buying or retaining quota to rent is bleeding the industry dry. As Seafish fleet economic survey reports show 40-60% on average of the UK whitefish fleets profit is going on renting quota.
This is stifling reinvestment, new entrants and stoking a crewing shortage as it impinges on what should be good wages.
Under an effort control system, such as FFL advocate, because all vessels would have an equal limit of time at sea they can reach their potential whether big or small. This would end the current race to the bottom of throwing profit at buying or renting quota.
As our hybrid effort control/quota system adopts the quotas and their entitlement no one who has invested heavily in quota entitlement loses their investment in them.
This is something the SFF and NFFO are desperate to protect the status quo to preserve and are being blinded to doing something better by this protectionist policy for a minority of big investments who could be safeguarded easily whilst moving into such a hybrid.
Another subject the report touches, but doesn’t examine in great detail, is the issue of allocation of resources and entitlements not only domestically but in the national interest on the global stage.
As the report notes in Norway ownership of fisheries entitlement, a company or fishing vessel must be composed of 60% Norwegian nationals – our other Nordic cousins and many other nations do so similarly.
The government of the late Baroness Thatcher tried to stipulate this with the 1988 Merchant Shipping Act in response to attempting to stop EU companies registering subsidiaries in the UK and buying up UK quota/licences – so called Flagships.
Not only was the EU taking 75% of the resources (when it should be a 40/60 split in the UK’s favour based on stock distribution) but of the 25% of the resources the UK does receive under EU ‘relative stability’ shares, half has been bought up from struggling family owned British fishermen by these bigger EU Flagship companies.
The government trying to stop this happening led to the Factortame case, where the European Court of Justice (ECJ) forced the UK to abrogate the 1988 Act as it was in breach of the treaties and the principle of freedom of establishment in our new pan-EU ‘country’.
Post Brexit it is vitally important that any fisheries bill and new British policy stipulates that all UK resources and fishing companies are 60% British national owned, crewed and landings into the UK.
Otherwise we are just allowing anyone in the EU (or indeed the world) to register a company here, inject millions of investment into buying entitlement and then can harvest our resources with no return to the national benefit or our coastal communities at all.
Continuing with business as usual would not allow the rejuvenation of coastal communities that Brexit provides and so many campaigned for or are dependent on success for votes. It is imperative that post Brexit a far more social approach is taken to administering one of our nations greatest renewable resources to benefit everyone involved.