Does the size of a boat matter?
Don Thompson discusses whether small boat fishermen get the representation they deserve.
Do fishermen within the small boat sector get the representation they deserve and do they even want or need that representation?
Firstly to share a lovely quote I often use when discussing difficult issues facing fishermen, when it appears that they are not all that interesting in engaging. "If you as a fisherman do not take an interest in your own future, someone else sure as hell will." That of course applies equally, to the bigger boat sector.
Having started a fishing career spanning 30 years and starting out with a 19 ft beach launched boat, it is easy for me to understand that the small boat sector does not see the need for the level of regulation/enforcement and quota restriction that is currently aimed at them. The combined impact of the entire sector, not-withstanding the larger under-tens on fish stocks is pretty negligible. Furthermore, by their very nature they are polyvalent and for survival, need to be free to catch the fish which are accessible to them, as and when that fish arrives in their area.
Few fisheries’ managers and decision makers are aware of the catastrophic impact to a small boat fisherman, of having access denied to just a single species, when that particular fish may represent his income for the next 6 or 8 weeks.
Having also spent more than half of my career working in the bigger boat sector and seeing how regularly the goal posts are moved for those particular fishermen, it comes as no surprise that they demand a lot more time and effort, from those whose job it is to represent them. Despite the growing complexity of the regulation aimed at the big boat sector, they are in many ways easier to represent as they waste no time in knocking on the door, whenever something new and threatening appears on the horizon.
It is easy though to sympathise with the inshore men. They are often very hard working and completely hands on. It certainly isn’t a route to becoming rich in a short space of time. They are generally fiercely individual characters, who do what they do, despite the hardships, because it is the way of life they choose. Understandably they do not appreciate officialdom and people in white collars interfering with their right to make a living.
The NFFO fully realise this (thankfully so), and often refer to the fact that a healthy fleet is one where we maintain and support the full range of sizes, right from the smallest to the biggest. That message seldom reaches Brussels unfortunately.
The small boat sector plays a very important role, not just in the supply of fish to the marketing sector, but in the continuation of the culture of fishing throughout the British Isles. They are much more in the public eye than those that work away from sight of land and certainly they are often the target of recreational fishers who often view them as a threat to their sport.
While the solutions to how best to represent the inshore fishermen, are not easily found, there is a strong argument toward deregulating that sector. Much of what they contend with in terms of day to day regulation is either not appropriate or just unnecessary.
An example, so typical of the one size fits all mentality that often springs to mind, comes from a good friend who works on an 8 meter potter/long liner single handed. His MCA equivalent certificate, for his vessel was withdrawn when a spot check revealed that there wasn’t a full 9 metres of cord on his life ring. He put it to the surveyor in no uncertain terms that if he was in the water, it would not make an ounce of difference if the life-ring, which of course is then out of reach anyway, has 9 metres of line or none at all.
With all that in mind, my advice nevertheless to the small boat men refers back to the quote at the beginning of this blog. ”If you don't take an interest in your future, make no mistake, someone else will and you probably won't like it.”
President of The Jersey Fishermen's Association