Both sides of the Christmas break have seen intense activity at Westminster as the Fisheries…
Why the NFFO will Fight Tooth and Claw to Block the Drift Net Ban Prospects are Looking Better
The reasons why the NFFO will use everything at its disposal to resist the blanket ban on drift nets proposed by the Commission are not complex.
First of all, of course, are the livelihoods of the small-scale fishermen who are dependent on drift nets for an important part of their annual income.
Secondly, extinguishing a number of small but significant, sustainable, small-scale fisheries in the UK, some of which hold MSC accreditation, because of a problem of inadequate enforcement in the Mediterranean, is like shooting the cat after a dog has got into the henhouse and killed all the hens.
Then there is the fact that the recent CFP reform was supposed to provide a way of avoiding exactly this kind of blunt, top-down, one-size-fits-all measure; the blanket ban on drift- nets is like a throwback to the pre reform CFP. By transferring some policy functions to the member states at regional seas level, it was intended that measures could be tailored to the characteristics of individual fisheries and this kind of fiasco could be avoided.
But there is also the issue of precedent. If this kind of blanket ban on a fishing gear can be applied with a nonchalant disregard of evidence, then no method of fishing is safe. The answer to any fishery with a significant bycatch problem should be specific targeted measures on the basis of adequate information. The blunderbuss should be consigned to the past.
Finally, the wholly inadequate consultation on the drift net ban goes against all the precepts of good governance that are supposed to guide new EU legislation. It would be a travesty if a ban affecting the real lives of fishermen was adopted on this shaky foundation.
For all these reasons the Federation will maintain pressure to safeguard the future of these small but important small-scale fisheries.
Following a recent meeting of the North Sea Advisory Council in Brussels, which was attended by senior Commission officials, the signs are definitely more optimistic that we can secure the necessary exemptions to allow these small-scale fisheries to continue.
The prospects of getting the Commission to revise its own proposal are close to zero. But it looks like the Commission does recognise that its online consultation was inadequate and that as a consequence it had completely underestimated the number and importance of small-scale inshore drift-net fisheries.
The legislative process, having been launched is likely to continue, and our efforts will therefore have to focus on securing appropriate amendments via the member states and the European Parliament. With a change of heart, however, the Commission could accept these amendments and ease their pathway.
Over the last couple of days the NFFO has been active in Brussels on the issue. The North Sea Advisory Council has set up a focus group to work on the issue and the signs are good that it can develop some sensible amendments which will have the support of the environmental NGOs. Europeche, the European Association of fishing federations like the NFFO, has also agreed to pursue a supportive role, especially with new post- election European Parliament.
Although the signs of a strong coalition are building, it is extremely important that we maintain the pressure. We have a very good case but it is vital that we pursue it with tenacity until this threat, which arose out of the blue, is banished. That is what we in the NFFO intend to do.