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,…
For the fishing industry, this is a period of enormous upheaval and change. The stability, in regulatory requirements, that has been the industry’s constant demand for well over a decade, seems even further out of reach than ever.
For the fishing industry, this is a period of enormous upheaval and change. The stability, in regulatory requirements, that has been the industry’s constant demand for well over a decade, seems even further out of reach than ever. The outcome of the CFP reform process, the replacement for the discredited EU Cod Management Plan, threatened access to customary fishing grounds from marine protected areas and offshore wind-farms, and public pressure for an elimination of discards and other changes, all push stability further away.
But we are a forward looking organisation, which recognises that beyond the immediate turbulence, change is needed and can be positive. The CFP requires reform; we cannot continue with a Cod Plan that has been evaluated and found not to be fit for purpose; fishermen as well as the general public are sick of a system that obliges them to discard.
And in fact, in terms of stock trends, the tide has turned. Whilst there certainly remain problem areas and stocks, the general trends are upwards and reflected scientific advice for the main commercial species and in many of this year’s quotas. It will take a while for the media – always wedded to doom and disaster -to catch up with this reality but our investment in conservation – through more selective gears, capacity reductions, dialogue with fisheries science – is delivering, stronger, healthier and more stable stocks.
The scale of the Round 3 Crown Estate wind-farm concessions are such that they have the potential to displace large numbers of fishing vessels from their customary grounds. However, with good information and good faith it is possible to design and locate wind-farms where this kind of impact is reduced to a minimum. The problem has been the availability of hard and detailed data on where fishing vessels operate. The need for very precise spatial data provided the impetus for a collaborative initiative between the NFFO, the Crown Estate and the Department for Climate Change, which under important safeguards and assurances, has made available skipper’s very precise plotter data, to the Crown Estate Marine Assets Planning System. Everyone who has seen examples of what this system, armed with this data, can do have been more than impressed. This moves the dialogue with individual offshore developers onto a new plane.
Cod Management Plan
There is little satisfaction to be obtained through an I told you so attitude but it is a grim reality that the Federation’s warnings when the current EU Cod Management Plan was forced into law in 2008 have all been realized. A blunt and ineffective set of rules covered, by a sham flexibility, has now been evaluated by the Commission’s Scientific, Technical, Economic Committee for Fisheries and found to be seriously flawed in some fundamental ways. The NFFO, working with Defra and the regional advisory councils, has worked hard to get a new Plan on the right track and in the meantime to secure interim arrangements that will address the worst features of the current regime – notably the annual pre-programmed reductions in effort (permitted days-at-sea). This is an uphill struggle against unreconstructed command and control ideas within parts of the Commission and the complexities, compromises and sheer inertia of the co-decision process with the European Parliament. The number of fleets affected by the Plan means that this will remain a major focus of NFFO work for the foreseeable future.
Marine Protected Areas
The establishment of a network of marine protected areas in UK waters has the potential – if handled badly – to displace large numbers of fishing vessels from their customary grounds. The NFFO has taken the lead in establishing a broad alliance of fishing interests, in the MPA Fishing Coalition, to ensure that the fishing voice is heard. Even although the unseemly rush to implement the provisions of the Marine and Coastal Access Act continues, high level engagement with senior officials from Government and statutory conservation advisors appears to have sensitised the authorities to the economic, social and ecological damage of displacement. MPAC has attracted support from French, Irish, Dutch and Belgian fishing organisations and we will continue to work to ensure that MCZs, and European Habitats protected areas, are introduced with minimal damage to the fishing industry. This is a very broad area of work which has absorbed much time and effort but is of critical importance to the livelihoods of many inshore and offshore fishermen, their businesses, families and communities.
CFP Reform: Regional Seas Management
It is well over a decade since the Federation arrived at the conclusion that, against the background of the political realities of shared stocks and an over-centralised and unresponsive Common Fisheries Policy, the way forward lay in a decentralised CFP and that the main focus of fisheries management should be at the regional seas level. Seen as outrageously radical in its day, this idea has moved centre stage and is now at the core of the CFP reform proposals and debate. The crucially important question now being addressed is whether we will get a diluted downstream implementation model of regional management or something that will transfer real responsibility for the design of management measures to the regional member states working closely with the regional advisory councils.
The Federation has put in an enormous amount of effort into advancing the industry’s views on the main elements of CFP reform through the RACs, and Defra and directly to the European Commission and European Parliament. Transferable Fishing Concessions, a discard ban, a mandatory obligation to manage EU fisheries to maximum sustainable yield all carry major implications and so the Federation will carry on its work in this area through and beyond the reform process.
Fisheries Science and Fishermen
A decade ago it would have been fair to say that there remained a great fissure which separated fishermen from fisheries scientists. Today it is more likely that ICES Scientists and the industry are united in expressing incredulity at some of the Commission’s tactics and approaches and working together on long term management plans and ways of dealing with data deficiencies. Much of this change has come about through working together on fisheries science projects and strengthened dialogue through the regional advisory councils.
Domestic Quota Reform
Acute quota shortage for parts of the under-10m fleet in specific areas has given rise to a government response that threatens to divide the industry and leave everyone dissatisfied. The NFFO has members across the artificial under-10m/over-10m divide and has worked in an industry working group to develop solutions. A letter outlining the Federation’s concerns about the Government’s proposed solutions and proposing a package of alternative measures was recently dispatched to the Minister. It has not helped that the issue has become politicised and suggestions for simplistic but damaging solutions abound. The Federation remains of the view that with cool heads and good faith much could be achieved in addressing the concerns of the under -10s without destabilising the UK quota management system which has much to be said for it.
Safety and Training
The Federation continues to play a central role in working for the improvement of safety standards throughout the fleet, mainly through the Fishing Industry Safety Group working towards practical, workable, measures that have the backing of the industry.
NFFO Services Limited
The Federation’s commercial division NFFO Services Limited, continues to do well and has built up a solid reputation for minimising the frictions between fishing vessel operators and offshore developers. The key to co-existence is dialogue and NFFO Services is the first port of call for offshore development projects who wish to work with the fishing industry.
After the hard work undertaken by the NFFO Shellfish Committee in developing a well thought-through policy addressing the issues of overcapacity and conservation in the crab and lobster fisheries, Defra’s lack of response has been disappointing in the extreme. The Federation will be pressing for a more vigorous approach over this summer and autumn.
The NFFO has backed and supported the North East salmon and trout net fisheries for almost thirty years against a continuous and malign onslaught by the salmon angling lobby. A new Net Limitation Order offered the anglers a further opportunity to marshal spurious conservation arguments and their powerful political allies. The Federation will continue to work on behalf of this small but important group.
Over the last 12 months the Federation has been at pains to rebuild and strengthen its regional committee structures. Regional committees provide a channel for fishermen outside member producer organisation to have their voices heard. Meetings on the coast in the South East, South West, North East and North West have ensured that their voices and concerns are heard. Equity of treatment for non-sector vessels has been one of the issues taken up on their behalf.
Regional Advisory Councils
The NFFO invests a great deal of time and energy in working with and through four regional advisory councils: North Sea, North Western Waters, Pelagic and Long Distance. It is widely recognised that the formation of the RACs was the single most successful part of the 201 CFP reform and it is certainly true that working with fishermen from other member states and other stakeholders provides us with a much stronger and more credible platform to work on long term management plans, CFP reform, spatial management issues and much more.Conclusion
The sheer weight of issues bearing down on the fishing industry makes it imperative that we have a strong, active organisation ensuring that our voice is heard. Working to overcome divisions in the industry and to ensure that our voice is heard where it counts remains the Federation’s core purpose. This differentiates it from the factional, from the inward-looking and from those who would steer us into various blind alleys. Building alliances with those who share our concerns lies at the heart of making the Federation a stronger body in the future.