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The Future of Inshore Fishing
The political profile of the fishing industry stands at its highest point since the Cod Wars in the 1970s. This heightened political and public profile provides an opportunity to put our inshore fisheries on the pathway to a sustainable and profitable future. Too often the issues confronting our inshore fisheries have been mired in disinformation and placed in the “too difficult” box.
A major conference planned for October, will provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for all parts of the fishing industry to bring clarity to the issues and have a say on what that future should look like. Fisheries management bodies and the main national fishing organisations are backing the conference, but the principal aim is to give working fishermen a voice in what kind of future they want for their fisheries.
This will not be a conference that only generates hot air and a report which gathers dust. Too much is being invested in it for that to happen. Change in our industry is constant and inevitable, but not always in the right direction. Massive preparations are under way to ensure that this event is the point at which the industry takes its own future in its hands. The idea is a simple one: get all those with a stake in the future of inshore fishing into the room, hear what they have to say, and harvest the best ideas to inform future management and policy in this area. Hard choices as well as opportunities are ahead, and it is better if these are made on the basis of sound knowledge.
If you are involved in inshore, fishing it is vital that you make the effort to attend.
A workshop, held recently in London to shape the form and content of the conference, provided a flavour of what the main event will cover. Representatives from inshore fisheries from all parts of the coast, along with Defra, MMO and the devolved administrations, gathered to plan the event.
Even how “inshore fishing“ is defined, carries policy implications. Alternatives discussed such as small-scale, or artisanal, or day-boats, all carry strengths and weaknesses. Some definitions work better in some areas and circumstances than others.
Issues discussed at the workshop included:
⦁ What are inshore fisheries? Should they be defined by area, size of boats, catching power?
⦁ What are the stocks that are currently exploited by inshore fisheries? Are they all inshore or do some of them straddle the inshore and offshore? How best to manage each stock, or mixes of stocks?
⦁ Are there stocks that could be exploited by inshore fisheries? What are the barriers obstructing this?
⦁ The importance of non-quota species to the inshore fisheries; how best to manage these valuable resources?
⦁ Where are technological developments taking us? What is the right response?
⦁ How do we balance fleet capacity and technological development with fishing opportunities?
⦁ How can we make co-management work in the context of fleet diversity?
⦁ How do we balance maximum flexibility to target species when they are available, with the constraints necessary to prevent over-exploitation of stocks?
⦁ Who should have access to fish inshore fisheries? Restricting access is the foundation for sustainable management but inevitably involves hard choices.
⦁ Is it possible to lift genuine low-impact vessels right out of the quota system?
⦁ How do we encourage new blood into the industry without destabilising what is already there? What are the implications of increased effort?
⦁ How do we factor in and manage the huge regional differences and fleet diversities evident in the inshore fleets?
⦁ The devolution settlement is a political reality. How do we work around it?
All this boils down to one question: what framework will allow the fishing industry to take more responsibility for managing its own fisheries, sector by sector, area by area? Government knows from bitter past experience of unintended consequences that, ‘if we do it alone, we will get it wrong”.
Many fishers in the room were members of the NFFO, from all parts of the coast. The South West, South East and South Coast were particularly well represented at the workshop, as you would expect, given the importance of inshore fishing in these areas. But there was a strong showing too from Northern Ireland, the North East and the North West. All could contribute with their experience and knowledge.
The Federation’s contribution set out a few reference points to be kept in mind for the October conference and its afterlife:
1. Policy should be evidence-based
2. Policy should seek to establish appropriate forms of co-management
3. There should be full recognition of regional and fleet diversity
4. There should be clear and agreed objectives
5. There should be coherence with other parts of the fisheries management system – avoiding displacement effects
6. Life beyond the conference: momentum should be built into the arrangements
7. Humility: inshore fisheries management is inherently difficult and complex: need to understand all facets
8. There should be awareness of the economic incentives created by different management options
Although this conference is jointly owned by the fishing industry and government, Seafish are acting as facilitators and have gone about the task with energy and skill, guided by a steering committee which reflects a cross-section of the industry.
What is said at the conference in October will shape our future. The aim is to draw lessons directly from what is said over the two days, along with the preparatory work being done, and that will directly feed into what follows. A lot hangs on this conference. If you work in the inshore you need to be there.
The conference will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday 8th and 9th October 2019.
The location will be: Leonardo Royal Hotel London Tower Bridge, 45 Prescot St, London, E1 8GP. For booking either link to Seafish website: https://www.seafish.org/article/future-of-our-inshore-fisheries-conference