21st May 2012 in Domestic Fisheries Policy

The recently published and long awaited concordat that will in future govern relations between the four UK fisheries administrations has moved a considerable distance from its origins in the Scottish Government’s attempt to establish its own separate quota management system with a ‘tartan tag’ on ‘Scottish quota’.

Although the new overarching framework agreement will increase the industry’s costs (as many vessels will have to reregister to match their country/territory of administration), and is unlikely to reduce the complexity of fisheries management, it is very far from the potentially discriminatory package of measures originally floated in Edinburgh.

The Concordat maintains the unhindered transfer of quota and licences within all parts of the UK.

As an agreement between different parts of government, it was not deemed proper to share or consult on early drafts of the Concordat with the industry. Nevertheless, the content was described to the Federation at various meetings with officials and the Federation’s furious reaction to some parts of the proposals may have influenced the final document. In particular the notion that a vessel from one part of the UK could be forcibly reassigned to the administration of another because its fishing pattern was deemed to be ‘Scottish’, or ‘English’, ‘Northern Irish’ or ‘Welsh’ has been dropped.

The purpose of the concordat is to allow the different administrations develop tailored quota and licensing arrangements for their fleets but in a coordinated way that avoids discrimination or adverse consequences for the other administrations. Specifically, the concordat will block the re-registration of vessels seeking to avoid the restrictions applied by one administration by re-registering in another. English vessels which reregistered to avoid the under-10m licence cap are a clear example of this practice that has influenced Defra’s support for a concordat.

Some important features of the concordat are:

  • DEFRA will only licence vessels registered in England; likewise DARD will only licence vessels registered in Northern Ireland
  • Vessels registered in one area but administered from another will have to change their area of registration
  • All 4 administrations will observe EU restrictions and where there are transgressions ( for example in a quota overshoot) the offending administration would pay any penalties
  • All allocations will remain UK quotas
  • Different licence conditions may be applied by the different administrations
  • Vessels, licenses and quotas will remain freely transferable/tradable within the UK
  • Transfers of vessels/licences between administrations will only be permitted for genuine reasons
  • The concordat will not obstruct vessels joining the producer organisation of their choice
  • All ‘English’ vessels will be administered by from an English port of administration
  • Vessels currently in a PO should see no immediate effect from the change although some POs will have members in different ‘territories’, with their FQAs and quotas overseen by different administrations. Their allocations will however be managed as a single quota
  • There will however be a new step in the allocation of quotas on the basis of FQAs: UK quota will be allocates to the 4 administrations who will then issue the quota tonnages to POs, non-sector and the under-10m pool
  • The under-10m pool will be split by ‘nationality’ on the basis of RBS (registration of buyers and sellers) catch records
  • There will be no restriction on movement of FQA units but:
  • There will be a publically accessible register of FQA holdings
  • There will be discussions on the funding of the FQA register
  • Administrations consider that FQA holdings do not amount to a right to quota but they ‘recognise the right to trade FQAs and quota’
  • An urgent review of the economic link requirements will be held to establish whether they are fit for purpose and in light of what is done in other member states; quota obtained under the economic link arrangements will be handled by the respective administration

It is not unlikely that, as is often the case administrative with changes, such as this there will be a number of unforeseen issues that will arise.