Sold Out for Bureaucratic Neatness

10th August 2011 in Domestic Fisheries Policy

Defra’s public response to the NFFO’s broadside on the imminent transfer of administration over English and Northern Irish vessels which exhibit “ a Scottish fishing pattern” to Marine Scotland fails to address any of the substantive points made by the Federation.

This is not a ‘secret concordat’

Perhaps it doesn’t come within the scope of the Official Secrets Act but we have had to rely entirely on hearsay over the content of the Concordat which, if it goes ahead, will amount to the biggest change to fisheries management since the introduction of fishing vessel licensing in the 1980s. This is an appalling lapse in good governance. Weak assurances that our concerns will be looked at have been accompanied by confirmation that the new Concordat has all but been agreed.

One of the issues we are discussing is vessel nationality. The Concordat …specifies that vessels must be administered from the district that they predominantly fish out of.

Part of our fleet fishes in the Norwegian Sector and other northern fishing grounds and, especially under the impact of days-at sea constraints and high fuel costs, have found it expedient in recent years to land their catch into Scottish ports. Equally, Northern Irish vessels have from time to time operated from English or Scottish ports, for shorter or longer periods. Forced assignment of “nationality” for vessels operation in this pattern would potentially carry implications for PO membership, quota management, and effort control and transfer of these to Marine Scotland. We have flagged up our concerns over the consequences of the Concordat in these areas but have no confidence that they are being addressed or even appreciated.

The new arrangements are designed to prevent “admin hopping”.

Leaving aside the politically charged issue of how far within a single member state it is desirable to allow devolved fisheries management to cut across and undermine existing freedoms and flexibilities, we have made the point that the Concordat is the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut. There is a simple answer to vessels which change port of administration to avoid management measures, as happened with the introduction of licence capping for the under-10s. Had all transfers been subject to approval by both administrations concerned, not only would there have been no transfers of this type but there would have been no applications to transfer because they would be bound to be rejected. Problem solved. As this is about fishing vessel licences, not registration, the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act have no bearing on the issue.

Vessels registered and administered from England will still be able to operate out of ports in other territories provided they maintain a genuine link with England, such as having their place of business there

Yes but ……English and Northern Irish vessels forcibly reassigned to the “nationality” that matches their fishing pattern - in this case Scotland -will also, logically, have their quota management and certainly effort allocations transferred to Scottish control too. We have been advised that this means that the Scottish effort pots will be enhanced and the English and Northern Irish pots will be correspondingly depleted as a result. More significantly, management decisions over those allocations will reside with Scotland. The Scottish Government has no responsibility or democratic mandate to take English or Northern Irish stakeholders’ views into account on an equal basis with the indigenous Scottish fleet, and nor would we expect it too. We would take a lot of convincing that our vessels, whether from England or Northern Ireland would receive parity of treatment in Scottish consultative forums, even if we were given formal membership – which of course we have not. Our argument is not with bodies like the Scottish Conservation Credits Group, which has done groundbreaking work but with Defra who, all the signs suggest intend to sell us out for bureaucratic neatness.

This is not an issue that just affects the larger end of the fleet. There are many over and under-10metre vessels on the North East coast which fish out of Scottish ports for a substantial part of the year. Equally, quite a few Scottish vessels fish from English ports for a variety of reasons and varying amounts of time. The Concordat will require a judgement to be made on when these vessels have changed “nationality” by virtue of their fishing pattern.

There would be little point in the English Days at Sea Group meeting again because there would be precious little under the English control totals to manage or consult on.

The implications for PO membership and quota management are potentially profound but have, as far as we know, been ignored. It would be entirely consistent with this approach that vessels considered to follow a “Scottish fishing pattern”, and therefore assigned “Scottish nationality” would have to be members of a Scottish producer organisation.

Ultimately this would open the door to Scottish administrative control over the operation of our vessels, without the safeguards against discrimination, intended or unintended, that vessels from other member states are sheltered from, by virtue of the CFP.