Final words of 2018 from FFL go to David Gair, Skipper of the Northumberland trawler Aquarius BH456.

In a Letter to Fishing News he warns that the incoming 2019 EU Discard Ban (Landing Obligation) is an impossibility when a strict quota system is used in mixed fisheries.

That this dysfunctional policy when coupled with the EU Withdrawal Agreement, where the UK re-obeys the CFP post-Brexit, will provide the EU the means to wipe out much of the UK fleet in the 2-4 year Transition period.

I write this letter as a very concerned skipper/owner of a small family run vessel in the NE of England.
With 2019 just a few weeks away the full force of the landing obligations (LO)is nearly upon us.
Everyone, not just the smaller vessel owners, must brace themselves for what is about to transpire.

Quota has recently been getting snapped up at extortionate prices to hopefully cushion the blow we will be dealt with at the new year where all catches must be landed and counted against quota.
This isn’t by small owners like myself, this is by the owners and companies who you would think have enough already.

If these owners and companies think they haven’t enough what chance have the smaller vessel owners who are the back bone of coastal communities got?

Many PO’s have been doing their sums and calculated that it just doesn’t add up – quotas are simply so far misaligned with stocks that there is not enough quota to cover all catches.

The conclusion they have come to is that vessels, POs and whole sea areas will choke on species like Hake as early as March. With zero catches of bass, spurdogs and west coast cod these are instant chokes and closures.

To add to this who in their right mind is going to cart all the discards ashore to see their expenses rise and profits and wages fall?

Who in their right mind is going to rent fish at crippling prices from slipper skippers, who must be rubbing their hands, to land as discards which yield no return and create more expense?

Then there’s the logistics of handling and transporting the discards. Not even the government has any idea how it’s going to be implemented.

Then there’s the impact on the ecosystem. The seabirds will starve and discards that return to the seabed that form a vital part of the food chain will be broken. Returning fish to the sea is natural – it is not like dumping plastics into the sea.

Some, especially those not at sea, pin their hopes on more selective gear. I’m not saying for one minute we shouldn’t have more selective gear, but in reality there’s only so far we can go due to the physical size and shape of the fish we have in our unique mixed fisheries in our waters.

None of the above even bothers to look at what is causing the discards of prime fish which is what rightly enrages the public and is a moral sin. That the quota system we have does not work in these mixed fisheries

As I see it this inept policy is all part of the end game by the EU to rid the UK of a fishing fleet so when we do eventually leave the EU and revert to UNCLOS we haven’t a fleet to catch what’s in our waters and the surplus has to be offered and negotiated to our neighbours.

Brexit should have been the chance to dodge a bullet and move to British policy that gets to grips with the cause of the discard problem.   Instead we have a Withdrawal Agreement that locks us into the CFP, with no say, for upto 4 years.   How many will survive 4 years of such a policy?

We hear all the spin from Mr Gove and Co that exiting the EU and CFP will rebuild coastal communities. I would like to ask him how, with the UK locked into the CFP during the transitional period with no seat at the table, this will happen?

This Withdrawal deal gives the EU cart blanche to do as much damage to the UK fleet. So when we do eventually leave the EU and hopefully revert to UNLOS there’ll be little or no one left other than a few big companies holding all the quota.

I watched as Sheryl Murray MP gave Mr Gove an excellent grilling about the negotiations of the surplus under UNCLOS which the UK would have to give away if our fleet was crippled.

Mr Gove just didn’t get it – it begs the question what have fishermen’s supposed representatives in the NFFO and SFF been telling him? Surely, they should have made the minister abundantly clear how dangerous the transition was to family based community fishing?

Mr Gove was a very flustered and stuttering to answer Mrs Murray and he looked either out of his depth or too arrogant to admit that he and government policy is wrong.

The industry is in dire threat and fishermen around the coast must have unity once and for all for our industry. We must unite and end all the bickering and back stabbing. Together we will be stronger divided we will be weak and fall.

As I said more than two years ago in FN, Brexit offers us the table not the scraps that falls from it. Do it right and we all will prosper big or small, there will be enough for everyone if we join in a united front.

For this to happen the NFFO, SFF and PO’s must listen to all members big or small not just a chosen few. They should all come together as one and demand government to act in the best interest of all fishermen whether it’s a 5m punt or an 85m pelagic trawler.

We all know what’s in our waters, and yes we should have the lions share. I believe there is enough for all of us to prosper. There will be access by foreign vessels but it should be on our terms, under our policy – not the EU’s.

The Withdrawal agreement leads us to it being the EUs and that’s why all fishermen must demand their MPs vote down this deal that could cause such destruction.

David Gair – Aquarius BH456