Greenpeace’s ignorance will damage small-scale fishermen

19th June 2013 in Media

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations response to Greenpeace’s interpretation of the CFP reforms.

A long-awaited agreement on EU fisheries policy is finally in sight. This is welcome news to all concerned, including politicians, those working in the commercial fishing industry and by environmentalists, too. Yet, some environmentalists appear to have become confused by what this Common Fisheries Policy reform will mean: Greenpeace has got itself excited that it will result in a wholesale redistribution of quota from the offshore larger vessels, which are mostly in producer organisations, to the small-scale fleet of which only some are in POs. From what we have seen of the CFP text, it means nothing of the sort.

Currently it is the member states’ prerogative how quota is distributed internally and it looks like that’s the way it’ll stay. Ministers already have the authority to redistribute quota and have used their powers from time to time by "top slicing" (extracting quota for redistribution before it is allocated on the usual basis) and "underpinning", where additional quota is redirected to the under-10m fleet when quotas fall below a certain level.

In its appetite for a simplistic narrative of victims and villains, Greenpeace departs from some important realities. A four per cent share of the national quota, which it claims is the extent of the under-10s chunk, is a good hook for Greenpeace's emotional propaganda; but as always with Greenpeace, the reality is a little different. Most species caught by the small scale fleet, like crab, lobster and bass, aren't even under quota. We consider that Greenpeace is exploiting divisions and frustrations in the fishing industry for its own ends and, while it asserts itself as on the side of small fishermen, its ignorance of the industry and issues at hand will damage those it claims to represent.

It is important to challenge Greenpeace fictions as they arise and so we would make the following points:

  1. The size of a fishing vessel is no guarantee that it is fishing sustainably. Large or small, it is what the vessel does that counts.
  2. Discards are a challenge for large and small vessels equally.
  3. Small vessels tend to have limited range. Inshore waters therefore come under greater fishing pressure than offshore areas. A mass transfer of quota from the “industrial” fleet to the small-scale fleet would mean two things: a lot of quota going uncaught, as it would be out of range, and an increase in fishing pressure in the vulnerable inshore zone as new vessels joined the fleet. It would be existing inshore fishermen who are the worst hit – a serious own goal.
  4. To a high degree, large and small vessels are interdependent. As we have seen with the port of Lowestoft, without a fleet of large vessels, port infrastructures are unsustainable and the small-scale fleet withers. The larger vessels provide the continuity in landings necessary to support marketing and ice facilities.
  5. Greenpeace considers that gill nets are indiscriminate, bottom trawling destructive and long lines have an impact on sharks and seabirds; this leaves the question: how are we going to catch fish to provide food security for our people?

The inshore fleet does face challenges and some of those challenges relate to quota shortage. However, there is not, as Greenpeace asserts, a generalised quota shortage across the whole under-10m fleet. The shortages are felt most acutely amongst the larger under-10s in the South East and these are best addressed by groups of under-10m fishermen working collaboratively with their local producer organisation. Producer organisations have the direct day-to-day experience of sourcing quota as and when it is needed. Recently, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) successfully brokered an agreement between a number of producer organisations and under-10m fishermen in the South East and Thames Estuary, breaking the preceding deadlock. This was a demonstration that the industry has the capacity to work together and to generate solutions.

Clearly Greenpeace’s reading of the recent CFP reform is different from ours. But to be clear, UK ministers have always had the power to redistribute quota through top-slicing and under-pinning and in that regard nothing has changed. Moving on from these reforms, our preference is for the industry to work together to alleviate quota shortages as they arise and the NFFO will continue tackling disputes with this proven approach of cooperation and collaboration.

Barrie Deas

Chief Executive, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations