The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has elected its next Chairman.
Chairman’s Report 2018
The NFFO’s AGM was this year held in Fishmongers Hall and was attended by UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice. The Chairman’s report, which is a summary of the Federation’s activities over the past 12 months, along with current positions on the most important issues confronting our industry was presented to members.
Our industry stands at a crossroads. The UK has an indisputably strong hand to play on fisheries in the withdrawal negotiations currently under way. However, in echoes of 1973, the EU has made it clear that it will make a free trade deal contingent on maintaining something close to the status quo on access rights to UK waters and quota shares. If the UK cabinet accepted those terms, it would be agreeing to maintain the asymmetrical and exploitative relationship with the EU that has characterised our fisheries for the last 40 years. The Prime Minister had unequivocally stated that when the UK leaves the EU, it will leave the Common Fisheries Policy, will control access to its exclusive economic zone and seek to rebalance the UK’s quota shares to reflect the resources within UK waters. All of that is consistent with the status, under international law, of an independent coastal state.
Trade in fish and fish products with the EU are indisputably important but what has not been made very explicit to date is that thousands of businesses in the EU, as well as the UK depend on unimpeded trade arrangements between the UK and the EU. The question is, how far is the EU prepared to harm the economic interests of its own citizens to prevent the UK from acting as an independent coastal state, by raising trade barriers of one sort or another?
The Federation has been working assiduously with our Government, to secure the best possible outcome from the current negotiations. At the same time there is a long list of other issues that require our urgent attention, not least the implementation of the landing obligation, policy towards marine protected areas, along with vessel and crew safety and welfare.
Rarely, has there been a time when it was more important for fishermen, in all their diversity to stand together and to speak with one voice. I am very pleased therefore, to say that our membership has shown a sharp rise over the past 12 months. This suggests that working together towards common goals despite the diversity of our industry, speaking in firm but measured tones to Government and having clear unambiguous policies, is widely understood and appreciated.
The process of leaving the EU and therefore the Common Fisheries Policy, is now well under way. The broad terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, including transitional arrangements and the shape of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU are expected to be agreed in October. There remains however, still a considerable degree of uncertainty about what this will mean for the fishing industry in the UK, in relation to trading and fisheries management arrangements.
There are, however, some things on which there is some certainty: The UK’s legal position will change and the UK will become a third country in relation to the EU. The UK will hold the status of an independent coastal state with rights and responsibilities defined in international law to manage the resources within its exclusive economic zone.
Our legal status will change but it can be said with absolutely certain that the EU will simultaneously seek to retain as much as it can of the current arrangements that have worked to the EU’s advantage and the UK’s disadvantage over the last 40 years. The EU is a regulatory superpower and can be expected to exert all the leverage that it can to maintain the status quo on access to fish in UK waters and quota shares. It has already explicitly stated in its negotiating guidelines that a free trade deal between the UK and the EU will be contingent upon maintaining the status quo on fishing rights. Significantly, there no other example world-wide of a free trade deal that allows one party, free access to exploit the natural resources of the other party.
Another certainty is that the key decisions on fisheries will be made within the British Cabinet. The Prime Minister has made clear that as the UK leaves the EU, the UK will leave the Common Fisheries Policy. The UK has also signalled that it will also seek to rebalance quota shares to reflect the resources located within UK waters. The resolve to maintain this position in the face of undoubted EU pressure during the negotiations will echo the position in 1973, when the fishing industry was considered expendable by the then government in London. The political stakes are much higher today. Parliamentary arithmetic, a minority government, marginal constituencies with a strong link to fisheries means that a sell-out of fishing would carry a heavy political cost.
The decision for the UK to remain subject the CFP, during the two year transition period was in line with accepting the whole acqui communitaire for the transition. Although the transition arrangements carry a number of unpalatable features, the critical question is what happens after December 2020.
The NFFO and indeed all UK fishing industry groupings, are united in warning that the government will be measured and judged against four criteria:
1. That the UK will hold the legal status of an independent coastal state and will be free to exercise the rights and responsibilities of a coastal state
2. That quota shares will be rebalanced to reflect the resources located within UK waters
3. Access to fish in UK waters will be determined by the UK’s overall interests
4. There will be unfettered and frictionless trade in fish and fisheries products
It is a self-evident truth that many businesses within the UK but also in the EU are dependent on frictionless trade in fisheries products. At the level of individual business both sides have a deep interest in keeping resource management issues and trade separate. The degree to which the EU can use trade as a lever will be limited by the extent to which they are willing to inflict pain and dislocation on their own citizens.
The Federation, working closely with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, and generously supported by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, has commissioned a major study of shellfish trade flows post-Brexit, in order to increase understanding and as a platform from which to press for optimum outcomes.
To secure the best possible outcomes as the UK leaves the EU, the NFFO:
⦁ Has been closely engaged with Defra and Dexeu at ministerial and official level.
⦁ Mounted an intensive media and political campaign that has highlighted the key issues for the main political editors
⦁ Lobbied parliamentarians in all parties to ensure that the fishing issue is well understood.
This campaign with Government, parliamentarians, media and in the ports will continue and intensify as we approach the key deadlines in the negotiations and in Parliament
In historical perspective, the EU landings obligation, will probably be seen as a spasm in which a media-ego tied to political opportunism, displaced practicality and a sense of proportion and derailed progress that had been made in fisheries policy over the previous two decades.
Our priority at present is to ensure that we move as rapidly as possible to a workable discard policy, avoiding serious chokes in mixed fisheries.
The advisory councils, in which the NFFO has been highly active, have done a good job in highlighting the problem of chokes in mixed fisheries. As we move towards the full implementation of the landing obligation, on 1st January 2019, it is far from clear that the tools are available or the political will at hand to address this fundamental problem which has the potential to tie fleets up prematurely each year, forgoing fishing opportunities, with adverse consequences for fishing businesses, crews, and the whole the supply chain.
Regional seas groupings of member states have recognised that their joint recommendations will not solve all of the choke issues although they have the power to mitigate the problem in some circumstances. The focus will now shift to the December Council of Ministers. A fundamental question that is now moving to the forefront is: Do we need to apply TAC status to all of the stocks that we currently do, to manage fishing mortality sustainably. Radical steps such as removing TAC status on some bycatch species, temporary and conditional high survival exemptions and a way of dealing with high value species destined for fishmeal, will be central to the fisheries negotiations this autumn.
Marine Protected Areas
Our work in the MPA Fishing Coalition, along with other industry groups, played a central role in persuading Government to replace a box-ticking exercise with an evidence based approach to establishing a network of marine protected areas. By highlighting the consequences of displacement and the importance of assessing actual risk to sensitive marine habitats in specific locations, Government was persuaded to adopt a much less gung-ho approach.
That proportionate and balanced approach is threatened by another celebrity led campaign to fast-forward the introduction of an MPA network without the evidence and dialogue of a more measured approach. The NFFO has taken the lead in pushing back and emphasising that the interests of the marine environment and fishermen lies with an approach based on evidence and dialogue.
Safety and Crew Welfare
The Federation has taken the lead in helping the industry adjust to the new requirements contained in ILO188. The free-of-charge Fishing Vessel Safety Folder is a step by step guide to compliance and a safe well-run vessel.
We have also taken the lead in establishing the Welfare Alliance that works to ensure that there can be certainty that all crews are well and fairly treated.
The devolution of fisheries powers may have worked when governments of the same complexion sat in London and Edinburgh. The aggressive nationalist agenda being pursued by the Edinburgh in Scotland, has created an unworkable set of circumstances which works to the disadvantage of the industry outside Scotland. Without a champion at ministerial level, there is little prospect of improvement. Equity of treatment would be a start.
There is a clear need for a UK framework for fisheries management that is clear, unambiguous, equitable and does not serve to create utterly unnecessary impediments to fishing businesses going about their trade.
The Federation successfully fought back against attempts to close the small-scale North East drift net fishery, which has been the target of anglers’ obsessive hostility for 40 years.
The Federation is heavily involved in many areas of work, too numerous to describe in a necessarily short report like this. There is one guiding principle, if the matter is of concern to working fishermen it is of concern to the NFFO.
I would like to take this opportunity to register our deep appreciation for the support of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers over the course of the past 12 months. The Company has recognised the pivotal importance of our times and provided substantial support to us in a number of important ways. Perhaps the most successful was by hosting a breakfast meeting in Fishmongers Hall for the main political editors, which allowed us a unique opportunity to outline the industry’s case to the most important figures in the media industry.
We all realise that we live in challenging times. As we leave the EU there is undoubtedly an opportunity to address the distortions that came with the CFP in 1973 and our efforts are solidly focused on securing those changes to access arrangements and quota shares.
At the same time, we must work hard to ensure that the trading arrangements with the EU – the destination of much of our catch – are as free and unfettered as possible.
Our future will be profoundly shaped by the decisions that will be made over the next few months. Our Federation will be at the forefront in ensuring that the outcomes are consistent with the promises and commitments given.