Mike Cohen – NFFO Chairman - Personal remarks to the NFFO AGM, held this year in London in Fishmongers Hall
In just a few minutes I cease not only to be the Chairman of the NFFO, but also - for the time being,…
NFFO Chairman, Arnold Locker, recently gave his annual report to the Federation's AGM. It is reproduced below.
It is difficult to recall a time when the NFFO has had to fight on so many major fronts than at present.
The Commission will shortly publish its proposals on CFP reform. At the same time, we are also dealing with the biggest change to domestic quota arrangements for a decade. Meanwhile, a review of the EU cod management plan is under way and radical new arrangements in the shellfish sector are under discussion. Discards have hit the headlines and the introduction of a network of marine protected areas is being implemented. The once stable mackerel fishery is under threat from irresponsible posturing by Iceland and Faeroes and the expansion of offshore renewable energy pose new challenges to where our members may fish in the future. A major joint initiative to address weaknesses in fisheries science, through improved data and more useful assessment models, is also under way.
Playing an influential role in all of these hugely important policy areas takes an immense amount of effort and commitment. We have in the NFFO a small but dedicated team, backed by much larger group of volunteers – members and supporters from every sector and part of the coast - that ensure that our voice is heard where it is needed. I would like in this report, to pay tribute to their hard work.
The EU Cod Management Plan has ramifications right across the demersal sector, impacting on a wide range of fleets, many who catch minimal quantities of cod, or who are already engaged in cod avoidance and discard reduction initiatives. The Federation is heavily involved in the key meetings that comprise an essential element of the review. We are pressing for a more intelligent approach to rebuilding the cod stocks, which would move us away from the demonstrably flawed reliance on TAC cuts and effort control. The misconception that a single Cod Management Plan which skates over the differences in fishery dynamics and fleets in the North Sea, Irish Sea/West of Scotland, will be central to our argument, as will the distinctiveness of the Celtic Sea and the need to avoid generating discards through blunt regulations.
An immense amount of work has gone into analysing the underlying disfunction in the current CFP and advancing the case for a radical decentralisation of the CFP. Whereas a decade ago the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the NFFO were pretty well lone voices arguing for a regionalised CFP, the concept has subsequently moved into the mainstream. The main question now is whether the Commission’s proposals will represent a genuine transfer of responsibilities to the regions and to the fishing industry, or whether centralised control will be retained through other means. The signals emerging from Brussels are not encouraging.
Marine Protected Areas
The Federation has taken a leading role in establishing the MPA Fishing Coalition, a broad based alliance designed to hold government (including the statutory nature conservation bodies) to account, as they designate a network of marine protected areas in UK waters. The Coalition has challenged the rushed time-frame, the weak evidence-base employed and the failure to seriously address the issue of displacement of fishing vessels from their customary grounds. Closer to the ground, the NFFO has also been heavily involved in the four regional stakeholder groups established to make recommendations on marine conservation zones. The stakes are high as we have never before faced such a widespread threat to or primary fishing grounds.
The high profile media campaign on discards led by celebrity chefs has so far failed to publicise the fact that the English fleet over the last decade has reduced its absolute level of discards by 50%. This is the strongest possible argument for progressing with the various discard reduction initiatives that lay the groundwork for low discard fisheries. Without this solid groundwork the rhetoric of a “discard ban” proposed by the Commissioner remains exactly that – rhetoric - that owes more to knee-jerk politics than real progress at sea.
Providing a cap on the expansion of effort in the high volume crab fisheries without constraining the flexibility of inshore vessels to change target species in response to local availability and markets represents a challenge. The Federation’s Shellfish Committee is working on this area on policy in preparation for a Defra consultation on extending rights based management to the shellfish sector.
Under -10 m Fleet
The NFFO has played a central role in discussions with other industry bodies in shaping Defra’s policy on how to address quota shortage issues in the under-10 m fleet. Steering away from simplistic and divisive approaches that would deliver little, the Federation has advocated dissolving the arbitrary line through the fleet at 10-metres and bringing the larger under-10s into the mainstream quota management system where tailored and professional quota management could ultimately enhance their allocations. The way that this approach is implemented will be critical for all parties – the high-catching under-10s, the vessels that remain in the under-10m pool and the receiving producer organisations. Avoiding a coercive approach, and providing the under-10s with a better range of options lies at the heart of the Federation’s approach. Handled well, Government policy could lay the foundations for a viable inshore sector with a strong voice at the table, nationally and internationally. Badly handled, the initiative could make things worse.
NFFO Services Limited
The Federation’s trading arm has bounced back from a difficult trading year in 2010 and is making steady progress in offshore renewable and fisheries/environmental consultancy, as well as the more traditional oil and gas sectors. Our General Manager, of 15 years, Dave Bevan, has announced that he will be retiring towards the end of the year and our good wishes go with him into retirement. His successor Alan Piggot already has a solid grounding and will be taking the business forward.
The Federation is working on a collaborative project with the Crown Estate, to identify key fishing areas, thereby influencing the location and design of future wind-farms, and other offshore renewable energy projects. Access to fishermen’s plotter and chart data, within important safeguards, is the key to the project as the aggregated data can provide a clear picture with the highest degree of resolution. This initiative is likely to be the first piece of a jigsaw, eventually covering all fishing activity on the continental shelf. By taking the initiative early the Federation intends to ensure that our industry is well placed to defend its important fishing areas.
The NFFO continues to vigorously defend licensed netsmen from the relentless pressure of the riparian/angler lobby. As seals tend to be as much of a problem for the netsmen as the anglers, the Federation continues to press for a comprehensive ecosystem approach that manages all parts of the ecosystem and has no holy cows.
Long Term Management Plans
One of the frustrations of constantly dealing with continual EU crisis management is that it distracts from the solid work that is required to develop well founded long term management plans for our key fisheries. Good work is under way in the regional advisory councils in which the NFFO plays an extremely active part; but so much more could be achieved with adequate resources and without continually having to engage in fire-fighting on immediate issues.
The regional advisory councils have also taken the lead in working with ICES to address the data deficiencies that mean that around 60% of ICES stock assessments fail to achieve analytical status. The RACs and ICES are working to identify the nature of the problems, stock by stock, identifying who is responsible for dealing with the problem (scientists, member states or fishing industry) and suggesting remedial measures. The Commission’s draconian proposal that data deficient stocks should be subject to an automatic annual 25% reduction makes this issue one of the most urgent that we have to deal with.
I hope that my report provides a flavour of the work that the Federation is engaged in day-in-day out throughout the year. The report can only provide the briefest of overviews but I hope that you will agree that we have a very hard working and dynamic organisation working for us. Our website at www.nffo.org provides a much more detailed picture of the Federation’s activities.