Meeting with Minister

10th February 2017 in Domestic Fisheries Policy

An NFFO delegation met with Fisheries Minister George Eustice, on Thursday 9th February to address the issues raised in our letter of censure, following the handling of the December Council and the issues raised by the new draft concordat between the four fisheries administrations. Our letter reads:

Meeting with Minister

“Dear Minister

You have given instructions to top-slice the FPO’s allocation of North East Arctic Cod for 2017. This will mean that 1500 tonnes of quota for which that organisation had a legitimate expectation under the FQA system, will ostensibly now be used by the MMO to deal with chokes that are expected to arise as the landings obligation is progressively applied.

We have a number of problems with what you have done.

1. The Scottish Minister, Fergus Ewing, and the Scottish industry have made no secret that this concession was made after extensive lobbying on their part; and there is an expectation that Scotland will be the major beneficiaries. Unless it is also your intention to also overturn the UK’s external waters licencing regime Scotland will not be able to fish this quota directly but will use it for swap currency.

2. This is a move which is detrimental to the interests of the UK as a whole, for it would appear, the benefit of a small number of Scottish interests. Other member states will now derive the economic benefit of high-value cod throughout the supply chain; the bulk of the catches made under the incoming quota (if they are principally saithe and hake) will be exported for value-adding and final sale.

3. If this initiative was really an attempt to deal with the undoubted problem of chokes, it has been done in a way that is utterly arbitrary, completely discriminatory, and without even cursory consultation with those who will be adversely affected. A genuine and systematic approach to a level of quota redistribution that might be needed to deal with the problem of chokes would not focus on the allocation of a single group or country; neither would it be done in the complete absence of discussion with those affected.

4. The way that you have caved-in to the aggressive nationalist agenda being pursued by the administration in Edinburgh in line with its wider political objectives, is deeply worrying; we now have absolutely no confidence that anyone at ministerial level is now looking out for the interests of the English fleet, unlike the devolved administrations, each of whom has a dedicated minister batting for their industry.

5. It is now clear that the value of FQAs can be degraded at any time on ministerial whim. Although we recognise the need for ministerial interventions from time to time, you should be very wary of undermining the stability and stewardship benefits that the evolution of the FQA system has brought.

6. Combined with the provisions of the revised concordat that has been agreed with Scotland, and which if implemented would lead to the transfer of administration of the English North Sea whitefish fleet to Scotland, we regard your actions as a major threat to the integrity and future of the English fishing sector.

Our concern is that what we are seeing is a departure and drift from relatively stable and consensual fisheries management in the UK, towards a regime of characterised by arbitrary ministerial decisions in the context of unrelenting pressure from Scotland. This is a matter of deep concern and for that reason our request is for an urgent meeting with you to discuss these important matters.”

Meeting

During the meeting the Minister did not dispute the essential force of our argument that he had caved in to Scottish pressure to top-slice 1400 tonnes of the English North East Arctic cod allocation. However, he described our criticisms as a caricature.

In turn, we did not accept that he was justified in raiding a single organisation (the Humber based FPO) to address the issue of chokes caused by the landings obligation. Chokes are a real and serious threat but our delegation made plain that an unprincipled and opportunistic quota grab is not the way to deal with it.

Despite the crowing noises from north of the border, it remains to seen who will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this raid. The complete lack of prior discussion with those affected by the reallocation, has meant that the government has not foreseen a number of significant obstacles to using North East Arctic quota as swap currency.

It was left that there remained some considerable distance between us on the issue.

Concordat

The minister was keen to stress that DEFRA consultation on the concordat between the four administrations was a genuine and meaningful exercise, notwithstanding statements from Scotland that it is a done deal.

The Federation has now responded forcefully to the consultation. Our delegation spelt out our concerns that the revised draft concordat reflects, more than anything else, the unrelenting nationalist agenda being pursued by the Scottish administration. Practical examples of how the operations of English vessels owners would be further prejudiced, if the revised form of the concordat were accepted, were given to illustrate our central point. This is that entirely artificial barriers to the legitimate operations of vessels with owners who are based outside Scotland are being constructed as part of a quota and power grab. Forcing English and Northern Irish vessels to reregister in, and be administered by, Scotland if they choose to land more than 50% of their catch in Scottish ports, is an entirely artificial and prejudicial development.

Time will tell whether the Scottish administration will be faced down on this issue or whether our fears that the devolution means that there is no one at ministerial level to defend our interests.