Outlook For 2010: Chairman’s Overview

22nd December 2009 in NFFO

NFFO Chairman Davy Hill Looks Forward into the New Year

2009 was a year of intense activity for the NFFO and looking forward, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that although some of the emphasis and focus of work will shift, the workload will be no lighter in 2010.

Dealing with the fallout from the December Council usually occupies the last weeks of the old year and the first few of the New Year. Exceptionally, the breakdown of the EU Norway negotiations in December means that we will be back in that particular front line in January.

Another priority at the beginning of the year will to be set the terms of the effort control regime that will apply from 1st February. Meetings with Defra and for our Northern Ireland members, Darni, to discuss this will take place early in January.

These meetings will be back-to-back with discussions on the Government’s catch quotas project. If we can agree adequate terms and safeguards this could allow a pilot that would reduce discarding, increase earnings and reduce fishing mortality in the North Sea whiting fishery.

January will also see the launch of a major new initiative to ensure that the fishing industry has a strong, clear and united voice, as the Government and its statutory advisors on conservation move to introduce a network of marine protected waters around the UK. The UK MPA Fishing Areas coalition will quickly establish itself as the major body of influence, not least because it has the full backing of the NFFO and Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.

Shellfish will figure large in the Federation’s work during the coming year as Defra moves to introduce a range of conservation measures, possibly including some form of effort restriction, and steps to agree a coherent system of effort constraint at international level moves forward.

The cack-handed way that the Omega net gauge was introduced and the complete failure to communicate with the fishing industry on the issue have left both net makers and fishing vessels with large stocks of netting that overnight have been deemed (using the new gauge) to be illegal. The Commission’s attempt to wash its hands of this failure of governance will not be allowed to stand and the Federation will be working through the RACs, other fishermen’s organisations and gear suppliers to challenge the gauge on both technical and legal grounds.

The NFFO took a leading role in shaping the CFP reform responses by the regional advisory councils and Europeche/ACFA. We cannot let matters rest there however and throughout 2010 we will be fully engaged as the Commission prepares its proposals for reform. We have argued consistently over many years that only through a radical decentralisation of CFP decision-making will we approach something like the responsive, flexible and adaptive system that is required. These ideas are close to becoming mainstream.

The establishment of massive offshore wind-farms, potentially displacing fishermen from their customary fishing grounds, is another major theme in the Federation’s work. And tidal energy can be added to the potential sources of disruption to address.

Our ambition is to strengthen the NFFO regional committees over the next 12 months ant to find ways of continuing the sterling work in the ports and with the inshore fleets started by Alan McCulla.

From April or May the Federation will begin discussions on TACs for 2011. Experience has shown us that it is only by identifying key priorities at this stage that we can marshal the evidence to strengthen our hand in the autumn negotiations.

The Federation continues to be closely involved in the Fisheries Science Partnership and will participate in the work FSP Steering Group. As part of various RAC initiatives the Federation will engage with ICES scientists throughout the year beginning in January.

One of the frustrations we face is that even as we build ever closer working relations with the stock assessment scientists, these can be undermined where the Commission adopts an unjustifiably hardline approach in its proposals. Irish Sea Nephrops is an example of where the industry’s impressions coincide with the scientists’ perception of the stock but all our energies have had to be thrown this autumn into deflecting a huge quota reduction driven by stock depletion on the Porcupine Bank to the west of Ireland. Along with highlighting the potential displacement effect of brutal reductions of this kind, as vessels struggle to remain viable, nothing could better underline the need for a radical reform and regionalisation of the decision-making process.

From their outset the NFFO has devoted a lot of its resources and energies to working in and through the RACs. There will be no easing up in this area and Irish Sea fisheries management, long term management plans, Celtic Sea cod, CFP reform and a host of other issues will be progressed through this channel.

Although it was possible to fend off the Commission’s attempt to bulldoze through a new technical conservation regulation on its terms at the November Council, we will now have to engage with the European Parliament (as well as the Council and Commission) to ensure that the new technical rules make some kind of sense. The Federation is already working hard to establish strong lines of communication with the Parliament and will be meeting with key figures on the influential EP Fisheries Committee shortly.

A short summary like this can only provide a glimpse of the scope of the Federation’s work. I haven’t touched on the constant, ongoing backroom work done to ensure that MCA safety rules are coherent and cost effective. Nor have I mentioned the detailed work on the new Control Regulation, VMS, electronic logbooks, regular meetings with the MFA (soon to become the Marine Management Organisation). Likewise, I can only touch on the type of work done by the Federation in response to members’ specific concerns and issues as they arise.

What I can say to all NFFO members without fear of contradiction is that the Federation is fully committed and hard at work on your behalf.

May I take this opportunity to wish you all, and all of the Federation’s friends and allies, good health and prosperity for the New Year.Davy Hill

NFFO Chairman