South East: Comprehensively failed by the Management System

19th March 2012 in South East

The fishing industry in the Thames estuary has been comprehensively failed by the system of fisheries management.

That was the conclusion reached at a recent meeting in Leigh-on-Sea/Southend of the NFFO’s South East Committee with a cross-section of fishermen from the area.

Chairman of the NFFO’s SE Committee, Tony Delahunty said after the meeting:

“The core of the problem here in the Thames estuary is that, unlike fishermen on parts of the South coast and South West, the range of species available to the industry is very constrained. For the most part these fish are the only within range of the fleet for limited periods during the year. We are talking here primarily about sole, skates and rays, herring sprat and bass.”

“This calls for precision fisheries management which provides access to species when they are available to the fleet. And it is clear from our meeting that this is exactly what the present management arrangements are not providing:

  • The quota management arrangements are too cumbersome and unresponsive – often closing fisheries when they should remain open and vice-versa
  • The EU catch composition rules mean that fish has to thrown back on one trip when it could be retained on another different trip with a different mix of species in the catch
  • The over-centralised management system within the CFP framework has proven incapable of providing flexibility to allow for the different seasonalities of the species that are available.”

The meeting was attended by under-10m fishermen, non-sector fishermen and fishermen who work through producer organisations. There was also a range of ages from young fishermen just starting out, to fishermen approaching retirement. All criticised the arbitrary line which divides the industry at 10metres, and underlined their shared problems.

Above all, two decades of management decisions were criticised for producing the current state of affairs which has produced a system of such rigidity that good fish has to be regularly thrown away.

This is not a high bulk discard fishery and the boats carefully return small skates and rays to the sea because of their high survival rate. But the fact remains the vessels here are poorly served by a management system that delivers neither sustainability nor viability. This is a tragedy because in the quality of the people, the willingness to adapt and work with scientists and fisheries managers there is the makings of a success story.

Ways Forward

The meeting identified a range of ways in which the situation could be improved:

  • A more flexible CFP management framework capable of tailoring measures to the characteristics of the fisheries in the Thames estuary – CFP reform
  • Less rigid quota management arrangements that allow access to the species when they appear on the local grounds – domestic quota management reform
  • A more realistic balance between the capacity of the fleet and available quota
  • Management arrangements that do not create artificial divisions within the industry – removing the arbitrary divide at 10 meters
  • A more supportive Marine Management Organisation at port level
  • Strengthened fisheries science using local industry knowledge and experience.
  • Recognition by fisheries managers that these vessels are run as small businesses with a desperate need for stability and continuity of supply against a background of changing species availability
  • A media profile that avoids simplistic, lazy and damaging stereotypes of fishermen
  • A decommissioning scheme for under-10m vessels as part of the domestic fisheries reform package that would help to rebalance the fleet with the available fishing opportunities

The meeting also discussed in depth how the industry in the Thames estuary could have a stronger voice at national and EU levels. Ways of strengthening communications so that South East concerns could be adequately taken into account when TACs are set each year were identified and will now be put into action.