President’s Christmas Message

21st December 2010 in NFFO

“The only constant is change”

The fishing industry has been in a period of intense change for well over two decades. Familiar landmarks have disappeared and comfortable assumptions dispelled. We have seen many of our vessels decommissioned and the framework of rules that we operate within changed almost daily. Above all, we have seen the status of fishermen as a courageous band of brothers bringing vital food to the table, displaced in the public mind by a concept of fishermen as irresponsible destroyers, not only of the marine environment but of their own future.

No one in the fishing industry could be happy about this state of affairs. A failed and dysfunctional Common Fisheries Policy has much to answer for. But the CFP is only part of the problem. Society’s changing expectations over how it expects its food to be produced have often outstripped the industry’s capacity to absorb those changes; and the situation has not been helped by self-appointed doom-mongers that find a ready ear in the media and amongst politicians eager to please.

What are we to do about it?

We could, and often have, railed against the unfairness and appalling relegation of an honourable profession on the basis of misconceptions, distortions, and half-truths. We can moan about the lack of political will that has, for too long, gone along with the lazy assumptions that decisions made in Brussels would lead again to sustainable and profitable fisheries.

But the truth is that, only by taking the initiative as an industry ourselves, will we be able to reclaim fishing from the bureaucrats and doom-mongers. Only by embracing change and being masters of it will we break the grip of the negative on our industry. In many respects this process is well under way.

  • Fishermen are working with scientists in fisheries science partnerships to deliver a better understanding of fish stocks and the marine environment as a basis for better management

  • The regional advisory councils are demonstrating that fishermen from different member states and other stakeholders can cooperate to deliver well thought-through, evidence-based advice that should be the basis of policy

  • Initiatives such as the 50% project and Catch Quotas, if properly designed and applied with the industry’s involvement, can make a substantial and real impact on some of the industry’s more intractable problems, such discard reduction, in a way that dictats from above never do

  • There are already strong examples of delegated responsibilities, such as in the field of producer organisation quota management, that point the way to a different, bottom- up, type of management that can deliver a prosperous and sustainable future.

  • Fishermen in the RACs are already working on long term management plans that, all other things being equal, will take us to where we want to go

After the nightmares, failures and wrong turnings of the last two decades we can see a way forward. Realising that vision is dependent, in the first instance, on securing a framework that will allow and even encourage it to develop. The coming year will be pivotal. CFP reform has the capacity to put the fishing industry on the road to a different and better future, a future in which the industry itself is an active rather than passive player. The review of the EU Cod Recovery Plan opens possibilities of breaking free from the imbecilic cuts in TACs and days-at-sea that have delivered exactly nothing in terms of cod recovery.

All of this demands much of the industry. It requires us to be much more involved than the past, not always easy for skippers at sea. It requires us to work together. It requires us to be open to new ways of doing things. Above all it requires us to take responsibility for our own future.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all NFFO members and our allies, friends and supporters my very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. We have a big year ahead of us. Enjoy the break.

David Hill

President

National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations