Letter from the NFFO to The Eurpoean Commission, June 2012

1st February 2013 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

I write further to your confirmation, at the recent meeting of ACFA, that the Commission is currently reviewing the arrangements within RACs to ensure that their composition reflects the various groups of stakeholders as closely as possible. I hope that the points made below are helpful to the Commission in understanding the issues involved.

29 June 2012

EUROPEAN COMMISSION

Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

B-1049 BRUSSELs

BELGIUM

Representation on Advisory Committees

I write further to your confirmation, at the recent meeting of ACFA, that the Commission is currently reviewing the arrangements within RACs to ensure that their composition reflects the various groups of stakeholders as closely as possible. I hope that the points made below are helpful to the Commission in understanding the issues involved.

I write from the point of view of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which is the representative body for fishermen and vessel operators in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Reflecting the pattern of fleet ownership in the UK, the NFFO’s membership also embraces a number of Anglo-Dutch and Anglo-Spanish vessels and organisations. It is important to appreciate that a significant proportion of our membership are of the smaller class of vessels below 10metres. Approximately 25% of our subscription income is derived from the small-boat fleet. As our subscription rate is scaled to vessel capacity, this figure therefore represents a substantial proportion of our membership expressed in terms of numbers of vessels. Membership is open to vessels of all sizes and fishing methods.

The NFFO has membership of and is active in the North Sea RAC, the North Western Waters RAC, the Pelagic RAC and the Long Distance RAC, again reflecting our diverse membership.

The organisation, formed in 1977, is run on democratic lines, with an Executive Committee whose composition reflects the organisation’s membership, and which endeavours to arrive at consensus policy positions (usually successfully) through discussion. Constituent associations who do not agree with majority positions are free to lobby separately for their point of view.

The NFFO’s constituent members are producer organisations and fishermen’s associations organised into regional committees.

Representation of Small Scale Fisheries

The Commission is on record as being concerned to ensure that small-scale fleets are adequately represented on RACs and within the CFP generally. We share that view and ambition. Leaving aside definitional issues of what the labels artisanal, small-scale, inshore fisheries include, it is fair to say that representing the small-scale fleet and ensuring their active involvement in representative structures does pose particular and difficult challenges. It is difficult to generalise and there are some examples of small-scale fleets that are well organised, and well represented. But it is also true to say that many, possibly most under-10 meter vessels are dispersed and divided by geography and fishing method. Many are not even in local fishermen’s associations, never mind producer organisations, regional fishermen’s groupings, national federations or RACs. These vessels for the most part have very little direct say in the consultative process. These are the realities.

What are the Solutions?

A separate RAC for small-scale fisheries does not make sense at any level. The whole point of RACs is to bring together a range of stakeholders to achieve, as far as possible a consensus. Again leaving aside the vexed issue of definitions, putting small-scale vessel operators into a ghetto can only further misunderstandings and division. One of the major achievements of the RACs has been to increase mutual understanding and it is inconceivable that an arbitrarily defined boundary splitting the fishing industry could be anything but unhelpful

Nevertheless, the underlying issues of how to ensure adequate representation for widely diverse and dispersed small scale operators remains. Our organisation, with some success, has addressed the problem through a regional committee structure drawing together local fishermen’s associations and sometimes individual fishermen. We have also invested (using EFF co-funding) in an outreach programme of port visits, again with some success. What these initiatives have confirmed is that representation for the small scale sector can be achieved through these means but they require substantial investments in time, effort and resources.

We would not pretend however that we have done much more than make some inroads into what needs to be done to bring most small vessel operators into the representative system.

Self-appointed Representatives

The small-scale sector is vulnerable to individuals or small groups who claim to speak on behalf of the whole small boat sector without providing any evidence that they speak for anyone other than themselves. This has certainly been the recent experience in England. There is a danger that the Commission, keen to demonstrate its sympathy for the small scale sector takes these organisations and individuals self-description at face value. In our view giving undue credence to such organisations is very far away from achieving the substantial increase in genuine representation that the small-scale fleet requires. At the very least before such organisations are taken seriously such they should be obliged to demonstrate a substantial membership base and a clearly defined structure for arriving at collective decisions. Without these safeguards and especially if public money is involved, the danger of misrepresentation, or at the very least overstated membership claims, is very real. Individuals of this type can generally be recognised by their overblown rhetoric.

Incidentally, this issue is relevant to a range of NGOs. We accept, of course, that wider society had a legitimate right to shape the conditions under which fish stocks may be exploited. It is more difficult to accept however that specific, essentially self-appointed NGOs have a legitimate authority to be taken seriously when they express a view on highly technical fisheries issues. Where does the mandate to speak, come from in these cases? In any thorough review of the representativeness of RACs, these types of issues should of course also be addressed.

Existing Organisations

It is far from easy to hold a national federation together given the inevitable stresses and strains that arise from divergent sectoral interests. It is important that the Commission in its proposals does not do irreparable damage to existing representative structures that may have a greater legitimacy that new organisations attracted by favourable funding opportunities and with the right kind of small-scale label.

Our view is that the Commission should strengthen the ability of existing organisations to draw in a wider range of small scale fishing interests in the ways suggested above and below, rather than set up new tensions and divisions by parachuting new self-appointed organisations into the RACs. It is difficult in any event to see how the Commission would arbitrate between one grouping and another. Likewise, it is difficult to perceive what improvement has been made if an organisation representing 0.5% of the small scale fleet has been given access to a RAC with perhaps preferential treatment.

We cannot believe that undermining existing representative arrangements, sometimes put together with great effort, and over many years, will serve the Commission’s purposes of strengthening the quality of and range of fishing industry representation.

Composition of RACs

It is widely agreed that RACs have been one of the most successful component of the 2002 review. The 2/3 to 1/3 balance has meant that the national fishing organisations from all member states have been centrally involved with a seat on the Executive Committee and that the 1/3’s views have also had an opportunity for expression. We would strongly caution against undermining that fruitful balance. In any event it is quite clear that even at present the 1/3rd have problems filling their seats.

Arbitrary Divisions

In England we have learnt the bitter lessons of creating an artificial boundary between fleet sectors with preferential treatment on one side of the line. The quota problems currently facing some parts of the under-10m arise in no small part from the migration of active effort from the over-10 to the under-10 sector to escape the heavier legislative burden. The same unintended consequences could follow any form of preferential treatment within the fleet. The lesson should be learned: as far as possible such artificial divisions should be avoided.

Positive Suggestions

Against the background outlined above, we would make the following suggestions to strengthen the level of participation of small-scale vessel operators in the representative structures:

  • Scope for EMFF funding for national fishermen’s organisations to undertake outreach work within those parts of the small-scale fleet that are currently underrepresented
  • Commission encouragement for the consolidation of fishing organisations to encourage as wide a membership base as possible and to speak with a clear single consensus voice as far as possible
  • Avoid deliberately or inadvertently creating additional arbitrary divisions within the fishing industry
  • Assistance in strengthening the small-scale sectors involvement in regional meetings
  • Encouragement for small-scale fleet involvement in RAC focus groups ( a good example is the NWWRAC Focus Group on Skates and Rays)
  • Development of stronger links within the industry and across sectoral boundaries based on modern electronic communications to overcome the traditional geographic and sectoral obstacles to involvement
  • Use the opportunities provided by regional management to bring management decisions closer to those affected
  • Support the involvement of grass roots industry in the development of multi-annual management plans. (The NSRAC’s engagement with stakeholders through port meetings in the development of advice on a nephrops LTMP is a good example of what is achievable

Conclusion

I hope that you find the comments above helpful. As a National Federation we are committed to representing all of our members and we recognise that representing the small-scale fleet poses real and significant challenges, especially for those of us who aspire to a much greater degree of self- management by the fishing industry in the future. However, care must be taken. Even with good intentions it is possible to do a great deal of harm to existing organisation like ours, for intangible benefits.

We would be very happy to discuss these issues with you in greater detail should you wish.

Yours sincerely

Barrie Deas

Chief Executive