Chairman’s Report 2013

2nd July 2013 in Executive, NFFO

We are all aware, I think, that the fishing industry is approaching an important fork in the road. The last 15 years has seen many changes; but even now it is reasonably certain that the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, which will in all likelihood be agreed later this year, contains the possibilities for a radical change in direction.

What is less certain is whether the positives will outweigh the negatives. Much will depend on the commitment and vigour of organisations like the NFFO as well as the member states charged with implementing the reformed CFP.

Although unlikely to be the main feature of the reform in the media spotlight, the scope for detailed decision-making on fisheries policy to be made at the regional seas level, rather than by the European institutions in Brussels is potentially of momentous significance. All will depend on the details and the commitment of member states and stakeholders once the legislation is in place but this potentially decisive departure from the over-centralised micromanagement offers a real opportunity for a more responsive and therefore effective CFP.

Parallel to this decentralisation of the CFP, the steps towards an obligation to land all catches of the main target species - the discard ban – likewise means that fisheries policy and management is likely to be very different from here on. What is clear is that the industry faces a difficult period of transition whilst the landings obligation is implemented.

What exactly these two changes, interacting with each other in future years, will mean for the NFFO’s members is not easy to foretell. Much depends on how much detailed control it retained at the centre. Much also depends on the degree to which member states and the advisory councils, at the regional seas level, take up the opportunities and flexibilities that the new structure provides.

What is abundantly clear, however, is that if fishermen in the member states want to influence the outcomes, they will have to put divisions behind them and work coherently and cohesively to ensure that their voice is heard and taken account of. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland the NFFO provides that voice and is committed to working tirelessly for and within a more rational and responsive management system that is up to the job of facing future challenges.

CFP Reform

When regionalisation of the CFP was advanced by the NFFO and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation more than a decade ago, it was considered by many to be dangerously a dangerously radical idea that threatened the foundations of the CFP. In that intervening decade, the continued failures of the top-down command and control approach - most notably in the EU Cod Management Plan - and the evident success of the regional advisory councils has meant the concept has moved centre stage although with different degrees of enthusiasm from different quarters. This shows the importance of persisting with well-thought through alternatives and using every opportunity to explain how they could be implemented in practice.

Co-Decision

The European Parliament’s new powers under the Lisbon Treaty have meant that the Federation, along with other European fishing organisations, has had to adapt to the new political landscape if it is to remain influential. This means keeping MEPs briefed and intervening through hearings in the Parliament and through direct contact with MEPS. As yet, it is too early to say how co-decision will work in practice. Our fear is that the Parliament will hold back decentralisation of CFP decision making, partly because having been recently given new powers they will be keen to exercise them to micro-manage rather than sharing them with the regional level.

Under-10 Quota Management

It has become quite apparent that there is a log-jam at government level in making progress in resolving the quota problems facing some parts of the under-10m fleet. The Federation has made clear in a number of publications its view that the roots under-10 problem is multi-faceted and its solutions if they are to work must take account of those different facets. Simplistic narratives, no matter how they appeal to some parts of the media and to some MPs will not deliver effective, fair or balanced outcomes. One of the big mistakes to plague the debate so far has been to treat all under-10s as if they are the same in catching power or access to non-TAC fisheries.

In face of the absence of progress, the Federation has taken the initiative to convene a meeting between producer organisations and key under-10 groups in the South East to discuss quota pinch-points and means through which unutilised quota could be re-directed in real time.

Shellfish

The NFFO Shellfish Committee, which is comprised of shell-fishermen from all parts of the coast, has worked hard over the last year to produce a policy which addressed the most urgent issues facing the sector. The policy whilst maintaining flexibility to meet the very different needs of varying parts of the fleet and coastal fisheries is designed to ensure the future sustainability of the crab and lobster fisheries. The Government’s inertia in responding to this positive initiative has been a great disappointment and the Federation’s task now is to focus the Minister’s attention onto this lost opportunity if Government inaction continues.

Deep Water Species

Slow maturing species and vulnerable marine ecosystems in the waters of the continental shelf edge means that a particularly careful approach to harvesting commercial fish species is an absolute prerequisite. This is very different however from the Commission’s proposal for a blanket ban on bottom-trawling and gill-netting which was published before the results of a major study funded by the Commission itself which provides the basis for a much more reasoned and proportionate approach. The Federation, recognising that these kind of politically-driven, science-free initiatives threaten all fisheries is working with Defra, the European Parliament and in the regional advisory councils to refocus on a balanced approach.

Wind-farms

The success of the Federation’s collaborative work with the Crown Estate to produce very precise mapping of fishing activity base on plotter data supplied by skippers themselves has moved decisions on the location of future wind–farm zones as well as dialogue with individual developers onto a new plane.

This approach has implications also for marine protected areas and marine spatial planning generally. Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon when presented with the results through the Crown Estate’s MaRs system conceded that it was a “game-changer” not least because this precision come with a very low price tag compared to the £4.2 million spent on the considerably less precise data used for the four regional stakeholder projects.

Cables

The Federation this year has agreed a memorandum of understanding with UKSC, the representative body for the cable industry. We consider this as an important basis for minimising potential conflicts in the future not least because of the number of export cables from wind-farms expected to cross important fishing grounds in the near future.

Regional Advisory Councils

The NFFO accords the highest priority to working within the four regional advisory councils which are of relevance to our members’ fisheries: North Sea, North Western Waters, Pelagic and Distant Waters.

Industry Reputation

The Federation has been dismayed by the constant flow of hostile and ill-informed criticism in the media. As a result in addition to working with Seafish and others in the industry we have taken on communications specialists Acceleris to redress the balance. We were therefore in a strong position to rebut Greenpeace’s bizarre series of attacks on the NFFO and on the industry’s unity more generally. The point however is not really to swat away Greenpeace’s attentions but to ensure that the industry’s achievements in meeting society’s changing expectations and delivering sustainable fisheries are fully recognised, not least in the areas of food security, fisheries science partnerships and stock rebuilding.

Control Issues

When the new EU Control Regulation was adopted in November 2009, it was recognised as the last gasp of the Commission’s command and control ideology, rushed through before EU co-decision making arrived. As predicted, the fishing industry is now having to deal with the consequences of this impetuous approach, not least in the arrival of electronic log-books.

Information technology has much to offer the fishing industry, as in other areas of society and the economy but it is quite easy to get things wrong through a rushed process which fails to take account of the specifics of fishing. The failure of the UK to take the opportunity to exempt day-boats at the very least until the problems are resolved in the larger vessels defeats mortal minds. This along with a range of control issues is being addressed by the Federation through direct discussions with MMO and Defra and through the RACs.

Marine Protected Areas

The marine protected areas bandwagon is well underway, with celebrity chefs, media-oriented academics, environmental NGOs, politicians and journalists proclaiming their arrival, overstating their likely benefits and studiously ignoring the potential adverse economic, community and ecological effects of displacement of fisheries from their customary fishing grounds. The Federation has worked within the MPA Fishing Coalition to redress the balance and it is pleasing to report that Defra and the MMO both exhibit a deeper understanding of the issues than those bodies which for their own reasons support an immediate network of MPAs in UK waters. We will continue to work with Government for a fully rational evidence-based and thought-through process.

Fishing Vessel Safety

The high cost of bringing fish to consumers in terms of lives and injuries to fishermen is usually subordinated to conservation concerns in the public debates about fishing. The Federation however, through the work of its safety and training officer, the work of the Fishing Industry Safety Group, regular circulation of safety information and MAIB reports to its members and most recently the purchase and circulation of 1000 grant aided low-cost lifejackets, strives to encourage the safety culture that is the only way of reducing the casualty rate. As safety training and is the key to progress in this area the Federation whilst open to reviewing all aspect of how to improve the safety regime is strenuously resisting attempts to block Seafish levy for training.

Conclusion

With the changing political landscape for European decisions in fisheries; with the misinformation campaigns used by media savvy NGOs; with an array of pressures from marine protected areas to maximum sustainable yield that were hardly on the horizon ten years ago; it is more important the fishing industry strives to speak with a united voice. The NFFO has earned respect (and not a little heat) for performing that role creditably. As we move forward it is of absolutely critical importance that it continues to do so. I hope that we will continue to advance rational, fair, well thought-through policies. I hope that we will continue to work with all kinds of groups which share our ambitions. I hope that we will remain responsive to our grass roots members.

I hope that we will continue to be listened to not just because we are the largest and most established fishermen’s organisation in the area that we represent but because what we say is worth listening to – and most importantly, acted upon.