Mike Cohen – NFFO Chairman - Personal remarks to the NFFO AGM, held this year in London in Fishmongers Hall
In just a few minutes I cease not only to be the Chairman of the NFFO, but also - for the time being,…
In a letter to UK fisheries Minister George Eustice, NFFO President Paul Trebilcock, has bitterly criticised the decision to add small-eyed ray to the list of species fishermen can’t retain.
The decision by the December Council to include small-eyed ray on the list of species that must not be landed was made with no advance notice, no discussion with the people potentially affected and no thought about the consequences.
But there are consequences. In the Bristol Channel, where for some vessels small-eyed ray constitutes 40% of their annual catch, vessels are already being put up for sale, and fishermen forced from the industry, with dire consequences for families, mortgages and futures.
This is an abysmal way to run an industry. And it should not escape your notice that along with the bass measures agreed at the December Council, it is inshore fishermen who will bear the brunt.
A completely arbitrary decision, made behind closed doors, with no prior discussion and devastating consequences is almost the epitome of bad governance and completely destroys any faith that fishermen may have had that you and your team were in Brussels to protect their interests; or dissuade them from the view that the European Commission is an institution that has only malevolent intentions towards them.
Fishermen in the Bristol Channel have been amongst the most progressive in the country and been at the cutting edge of developing ways of harvesting rays in a sustainable way. A voluntary increase in the minimum landing size, a voluntary seasonal closure, along with cooperation with scientists in identifying individual species in the ray catch, have been amongst their past contributions. The sense of disillusionment and betrayal from those who worked in this positive way, only to see their livelihoods subsequently destroyed is overwhelming.
What is the evidence that justified such extreme measures? Surely this kind of measure with these kind of consequences should be used only in the most extreme emergency situation?
Were there no alternatives? These are some of the questions that should have been asked before some bureaucrat blithely added a species to a list.
Can this decision be reversed and quickly? You should already know that the NFFO can be found wherever it is necessary to work on complex and challenging fisheries management issues; and the management of skates and rays is certainly one of those areas. But you must realise how difficult it is going to be to get fishermen to engage with scientists and fisheries administrators against background of arbitrary decisions like this.
We understand that there is a potential to reverse this decision at the March Council through an amendment to the TACs and Quotas Regulation. Damage has been done and a mistake has been made but the damage can be limited by swift remedial action. We eagerly await your confirmation that the UK will take the lead in rectifying the situation.
National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations