Fishing for Leave were delighted to attend the third Brexit Seminar in Westminster with Owen Paterson, Michael Gove, John Redwood, Bill Cash and other leading Brexiteers.
Especial thanks to the organisers to be provided the opportunity to speak on the launch of UK2020s Fisheries and Agriculture paper with the text on fisheries below. A full copy can be downloaded here – https://t.co/2CtaGIrXKj?amp=1
Tacking control of fisheries policy
Of all the environmental damage that European policy has done, perhaps the worst has been to fisheries. The Common Fisheries Policy has been a biological, environmental, economic and social disaster; it is beyond reform.
It is a system that has forced fishermen to throw back more fish dead into the sea than they have landed. It has caused substantial degradation of the marine environment.
The CFP has destroyed much of the fishing industry, with compulsory scrapping of modern vessels. It has devastated fishing communities.
In 1995, 9,200 British fishing vessels landed 912,000 tons of fish; by 2002 there were 7,003 vessels landing 686,000 tons. This 25 per cent decline in just seven years meant the loss of on average one fishing vessel per day.
In that same period landings dropped from over 900,000 to just 627,000 tonnes annually, with a value of only £770 million.
This decline is all too apparent with an analysis of the UK’s fishing imports.
By 2015, by which time there were just 6,187 British fishing vessels at work, UK imports reached 680,800 tonnes of fish and 92,500 tonnes of fish products, with a combined value of at £2.784 billion, of which just under a third came from our EU neighbours.
To make matters a great deal worse, much of that harvest was caught in British waters, meaning that we are buying back our own fish.
Having signalled our withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention it is now taken as read that we will abandon this disastrous policy, retaking control of the waters of our Exclusive Economic Zone.
We can thus rejuvenate British fishing with a new, bespoke
approach to support the country’s 12,000 fishermen and the communities which depend upon them.
International relations with specific partners – and particularly our Nordic friends and neighbours – can be managed through the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) of which the Russian Federation, Norway, Iceland, Denmark (representing the Faroe Islands and Greenland) and the European Union are parties.
As for a number of international organisations, the UK taking up a full seat on the NEAFC must be a crucial part of the withdrawal process.
Quotas and discards
The CFP’s system of fixed quotas has led to appalling levels of discarding. CFP rules have forced fishermen to dump billions of dead fish because they are too small or the wrong species.
An estimated million tonnes of fish a year are thrown back as discards, up to a quarter of all fish caught according to some estimates, with even higher rates in some parts. These discards are worth some £1.6 billion annually, or the equivalent of 2 billion fish suppers.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of a new policy must, therefore be to take measures to prevent discarding. An EU discard ban has been attempted, but has proven unworkable. It simply addressed discards as the symptom, but failed to recognise them as an unavoidable
consequence of the quota system.
Instead, the practical effect is that discards are simply dumped on land rather than at sea, with some going into landfill. Under such a ban, when a vessel runs out of one species it must stop fishing, even it if has adequate quota for others.
This has potentially ruinous economic effects as vessels will be forced to tie up upon exhausting their smallest allocation – the so-called “choke species”.
Refined Effort Control
Discards are an inevitable consequence of quotas, so the present fixed-quota system must be converted to one based upon refined effort control, which allows landing of all catches enabling accurate and timely data collection.
The immediate effect of adopting a refined effort control system in order to conserve fish stocks is that government bodies, scientists and fishermen are relieved of having to administer the labour intensive and unpopular quota system.
In terms of transition, the basis of the allocation would be one of maintaining the status quo, for whatever time it takes to introduce the new, fully-working system.
This would involve converting existing Fixed Quota Allocation entitlements into their equivalent within a refined effort control system.
This will be in the form of Flexible Catch Composition percentages, for which five-year track records of species landed should provide
the basis of the percentage catches per species.
Once quotas have been converted and attached to licences, it will be necessary to review the catch composition percentages as real, accurate catch data are revealed with each mandatory landing.
Flexible Catch Compositions would provide financial and investment stability, whilst avoiding embroiling the Government in a lengthy dispute over investments made in Fixed Quota Allocations.
Flexible Catch Compositions also provide a degree of individual species control, discouraging a free-for-all “race to fish” by setting targets for a sustainable mixture of species which a vessel should catch.
They work based on all catches being landed and recorded, with fish caught over the FCC percentage incurring a penalty in the time a vessel is allowed at sea equivalent to the value of the excess fish.
There is thus no financial incentive to chase high-value or vulnerable species, since this would lose too much of a fisherman’s time. Neither is there any incentive to discard as the time loss never exceeds the value of the excess fish caught; the loss of time is paid for by the
Instead, vessels are encouraged to use their time wisely by catching a sustainable mixture of fish, while still being afforded the necessary flexibility which our rich, mixed fisheries demand.
Accurate, real-time information is vital for the success of a refined effort control system, and technological advances make provision for the rapid temporary closure of fisheries in response to risks of excessive commercial catches.
Imposing mandatory reporting of all landings further ensures that data collection is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.Technical improvements in both hardware and software have made the monitoring enforcement of such a system much more effective.
Vessels and their nets can be equipped with sensors interfaced with a master database so that effort control can be based upon highly precise soak time, negating the need to impose a precautionary lower limit estimate.
By monitoring gear deployment, soak-time data thus provides a fleet the flexibility to spread out over its full geographical range and stocks. Real-time updates relayed to a vessel will allow a skipper to steer the best course for a trip more efficiently and, correspondingly, allow administrators on land to be much more responsive to required variations when they arise.
Such monitoring effectively turns each fishing vessel into a research centre pouring out data to scientists on an hourly basis, improving our understanding of fish stocks and hence placing their sustainability on a much more robust footing.
Real-time data from fully-documented fisheries allows for transparent, real-time management, in stark contrast to the current policy. The quota system encourages hidden discarding and misreporting.
It is based on information which is guaranteed (because of discards) to be inaccurate by at least 50%, and probably six months out of date. The accuracy of the data from refined effort control will allow scientists and fisherman to agree modifications to the Total Allowable Catch and to Flexible Catch Compositions, working wholly in harmony with nature and the natural fluctuations in fish populations.
Examples of such systems abound. The Fisheries Minister in the Faroe Islands, where it is mandatory to land everything, summarised the pragmatism of the approach by saying: “We might not like what we find, but we know exactly what is going on.”
Likewise, in the Falkland Islands, accurate figures are discussed with senior scientists and any vessel taking too much by-catch is told to steam on.
In Iceland, vessels are told to move if they are catching too much of a certain species at an hour’s notice. This sort of control can now be given to local fishermen and those with an interest in the local marine environment.
The Falklands example is, in fact, an archetype for national control bringing stability and prosperity to a once chaotic fishery. Until 1986, there were no proper controls for the Spanish and Asian fishing fleets, but the Spanish have since become the largest purchasers of fishing licences, and the most significant investors in joint ventures in the Falklands fisheries.
In addition to the temporary closures and real-time movements, we should allow for the establishment of a system of permanent conservation zones, defined as absolute “no-take” areas.
These would tend to be spawning and nursery areas which are so biologically sensitive that any damage done by commercial fishing would be unacceptable. They may have special biological or other significance such as in areas where there are cold water coral reefs, or where commercial fishing would be undesirable.
Permanent closure must, however, be properly considered; used unwisely, it can have the effect of simply displacing fishing effort into other areas, with the resultant reduction in fish mortality leading to an overpopulation and the eventual starvation of the fish in the area.
A trial of refined effort control should be conducted to examine and improve the scheme as an alternative to fixed quotas. The trial should be performed on a national basis, involving each major fisheries area, with two or three vessels in each gear category and each sector taking part.
Each vessel would be given exemption from quotas and the associated legislation, and given licences allocating them the number of hours which they are permitted to fish, and the gear which they are permitted to use.
As part of the trial, each vessel should document two trips at sea. The first would be its trip under the refined effort control scheme, recording the overall stock mortality, the proportion and composition of the retained catch, and the overall expenses of the trip.
The second log would record a theoretical trip under the quota system to act as a comparison. The Government should look to instigate such a trial immediately in order to consider the full applicability of refined effort control as a replacement for the CFP upon our withdrawal.
The Secretary of State has suggested his willingness to see an overhaul of our fishing policy, but has indicated some support for a system of “individual transferrable quotas”; a total sustainable catch is decided, before being then divided among the fishing fleet according to each vessel’s owned share.
He has, in particular, looked to Iceland as a model for a thriving sector but this is, in large part, to ignore the markedly different ecologies of British and Icelandic waters.
UK fisheries are far more mixed than those in Iceland, making it all but impossible to catch the “correct” species and avoid discards. This problem is less severe in Iceland, but there are still undoubtedly choke species and, inevitably, discards.
ITQs also tend to concentrate ownership of quota in the hands of a few large owners, driving away smaller businesses and traditional fishing families.
This effect is creating an appetite for reform in Iceland, and is not something we should seek to import. Indeed, as the UK effectively already operates a de facto ITQ system in the way it administers its EU quota share, adopting this approach would simply be to extend the failures of the CFP which we have endured for so long.
In any event, the Government should commission a trial of ITQs alongside the refined effort control trial so as to have the fullest possible understanding of the best option for the future of the industry.