Developing a participatory approach to the management of fishing activity in UK offshore Marine Protected Areas
Successfully involving the fishing sector and stakeholders in decision-making over the…
The NFFO’s Executive Committee met recently in York to deal with a heavy workload of issues confronting the fishing industry.
Cod Recovery and Effort Control
Top of the list was the now desperate situation faced by vessels subject to the EU Cod Management Plan. These fleets face pre-programmed reductions in quotas and days-at-sea, despite the fact that scientists have ruled the Plan not fit for purpose and the European Commission has ceased to defend it. At a recent meeting the NFFO urged Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon to intervene to secure a pause to the automatic reductions, whilst a revised plan can be sorted out in the longer term.
TACs and Quotas
Following a productive meeting with Defra officials, the Executive finalised its positions on TACs and Quotas for next year. In general terms, and with a few important justifiable exceptions, the NFFO can support following the scientific recommendations but is insistent that the Commission’s fundamentalist approach to TACs, and its wrongheaded approach to dealing with data-poor stocks through TAC cuts, must be solidly rejected.
The NFFO’s position paper on Shellfish Policy was formally adopted. It addresses the problem of latent capacity in the high-catching, offshore, part of the fleet and argues for the importance of retaining flexibility in the inshore sector. The toolbox approach to technical measures is an important part of the paper, which will now be presented to government. It is hoped that this new initiative will break the logjam that has held up progress on shellfish policy because of its focus on over-complex approaches such as a national pot limitation scheme or the introduction of shellfish quotas.
Marine Conservation Zones
The Committee heard back from a meeting of the MPA Fishing Coalition which met recently with Natural England, Defra and the MMO. The Coalition has successfully challenged Natural England’s claims to have a management role (as well as an advisory and “stakeholder” role) and questioned the quality of the evidence- base on which a network of 178 marine protected areas is to be established in UK waters. Natural England was also challenged to say whether it agreed with the MMO’s robust response to Client Earth/Marine Conservation Societies to expel all fishing vessels immediately from candidate SACs.
Under-10 metre Quota Management
Efforts to resolve the quota problems facing parts of the under-10m fleet, in light of the results of the recent Defra consultation, were discussed. It was agreed that the Industry Working Group had made substantial progress but that there was more to be done to ease the quota pinch points through more effective quota management for the under-10s and that the various pilot projects should be supported in ways that were not divisive.
Safety and Training
The Federation’s Safety and Training Officer reported on the extensive areas of work covered by this post including the mandatory wearing of floatation apparatus and the Working Time Directive.
Reports were made on important new initiatives made by the Federation’s South East, South West, North West and North East Committees, including the election of new chairmen in the South East and South West. The regional committees are seen as important links between the Federation and grass-roots fishermen in the ports who are often unaware of the NFFO’s activities on their behalf. It was agreed that improving communications with the ports should be a priority.
The NFFO’s response the Commission’s proposal on CFP reform was formally approved. The Committee supported the Federation’s extensive work on CFP reform in the four regional advisory councils of which it is a member: North Sea, North West Waters, Pelagic and Long Distance.
European Marine and Fisheries Fund
A summary of the contents of the replacement for the European Fisheries Fund was discussed. Further discussions with Defra on the detail will now be held.
The Federation’s written and verbal evidence to Select Committee enquiries by the House of Commons and the House of Lords was approved.
Despite assurances from Defra that the Concordat between Defra and the devolved administrations, on how UK fisheries management will operate in the future will not disadvantage us, there remains deep concern that the lack of transparency, or any level of industry involvement, in what may amount to some of the most profound changes to the UK fisheries management regime for 20 years. These anxieties will remain until we are finally allowed sight of the final agreed document. Federation will again write to Defra outlining our areas of continuing concern.
The Committee discussed the Commission’s CFP reform proposal to require the landing of all catches within a mandatory timeframe. It was agreed that the Federation was committed to the progressive reduction of discards but that a “discard ban” in any absolute sense would be unworkable, with many undesirable side effects. It was agreed to work within the RACs and with Defra for a practical fishery-by-fishery approach. In any event, it was agreed that a logical precondition for a “land everything” policy was an end to all “regulatory” discards – such as those caused by zero TACs in mixed fisheries or the catch composition rules.
Seafish Industry Authority
An initial discussion on the future of Seafish was held, in preparation for a deeper discussion with the Chief Executive of Seafish at the next meeting of the Executive Committee. It was agreed that the national training framework and industry reputation were two aspects of Seafish work that must be retained in whatever institutional and levy arrangements that emerge from the forthcoming review.
Marine Management Organisation
The Executive noted that diary pressures had meant that a planned meeting with the MMO would now be deferred until the New Year but a smaller meeting focused on marine spatial planning would go ahead on the 10th November.
The Federation’s collaborative work with the Crown Estate on the location of offshore wind-farms was reviewed. It was agreed that the quality of the mapping of fishing activity on plotter data supplied by skippers was superb and would be vital in protecting fishing grounds from the consequence of poorly regulated expansion of offshore renewable energy. The Committee agreed that the data had been provided in good faith for a specific purpose and that it was absolutely paramount that the assurances that accompanied the release of the information should be respected.
The Executive, which is composed of industry representatives from all sectors and parts of the coast, will meet again on 8th December to progress its work.