Under-10 metre Stalemate: NFFO Perspective

25th March 2013 in Domestic Fisheries Policy, Inshore

Progress towards a broadly acceptable solution to the quota shortage problems facing parts of the under-10 m fleet appear to have reached a kind of stalemate.

  • The approach suggested in the Government's consultation in 2010, focused on establishing as system of rights based management, was decisively rejected by most under-10 m vessel operators who are broadly content with the pool system, albeit with concerns about periodic specific quota shortages
  • The proposed administrative redistribution of fixed quota allocations to the under-10s, raised fears in the producer organisations about the integrity of the whole FQA system. This led to a legal challenge by UKAFPO which has to a large extent closed down discussion between the industry and government on the under-10m issue. It is far from clear what the full and long term implications of the Courts' judgement will be but one immediate consequence has been the reduction of the amount of quota made available by the POs to the under-10s.
  • Ambitious plans for a number of pilot quota management schemes for under-10m groups had to be pared down to a single project with 11 vessels from which it will be difficult to draw generalised lessons but appears to be working reasonable well from a quota management point of view.
  • The progress made in the Industry Working Group in identifying problems and solutions in the under-10m sector appears to have slowed down partly because of the developments above
  • The extravagant language and over-extended arguments used to describe the issues facing the small-scale fleet earlier in the debate have left their mark in the media and some parts of Parliament, but are disregarded by anyone with any deeper understanding of the issues in Government or the industry
  • It now seems unlikely, contrary to earlier indications and much rhetoric, that CFP reform will bring significant change to the ways that member states manage their quota allocations or the small-scale fisheries. The under-10m fleet will not be excluded from the general conservation regime, or the quota system but may receive preferential grant treatment under EMFF
  • The structural imbalance between the over-10m fleet and available resources, which built up in the 1980s, was largely addressed by successive rounds of publically funded decommissioning and a great deal of self-funded rationalisation within the industry. Apart, however, from a single limited decommissioning scheme, little has been done to help the under-10s from achieving a similar adjustment. Any policy which ignores this structural element is likely to fail to achieve its objectives.
  • There have been some discussions on setting up an under-10m producer organisation to bring some of the autonomy, flexibility and efficiency enjoyed by POs to the under-10m fleet, but a number of financing, membership and management issues remain to be resolved

Against this background, it may be timely to again take stock of the under-10m issue and to try to define the outlines of a way forward.

Pinch Points or Generalised Crisis?

A key question at the outset is whether the quota shortages faced by the under-10s are regionally specific pinch-points or symptomatic of a more generalised endemic or systemic shortage. Our impression is that although quota shortage constrains fishing activity throughout the whole UK fleet, the specific problems facing the under-10 fleet are mainly concentrated in the South East, where access to non-TAC species is limited.

It would be difficult to overstress the importance of non-TAC species such as crab, lobster, and bass to the bulk of the under-10m fleet.

Narrowing the management focus to deal, initially, with the pinch-point fisheries in the South East seems to us to be an important way to make some progress in resolving at least the most acute problems facing the under-10 fleet.

Structural Issues

Without an understanding of the balance between available fishing opportunities and the capacity of the fleets to catch those resources, any policy initiative on the under-10s is likely to founder.

There are at least three components to take into account in assessing the capacity of the under-10m fleet:

  • High catching vessels amounting to around 14% of the total number that account for around 70% of the under-10s catch of quota species
  • The rest of the inshore fleet, which continue to operate on an artisanal, small scale, basis
  • The latent capacity associated with the many under-10m licences attached to vessels which are not fully utilised

High-catching Under-10s

We have previously analysed and written about the development of the under-10 m fleet during the late 1980s and 1990s. The emergence of a category of vessel between 9.5m and 9.9m variously described as "rule beaters ", "super-under-10s" or just "high-catching-under-10s" is, along with reducing TACs, probably the most salient factor in the current imbalance between under-10m quotas and under-10m fleet capacity. With fishing and business characteristics more akin to the over-10m fleet than the more traditional artisanal fleets, the super-under tens are the cuckoo in the under-10 nest. No blame should be attached to any vessel owner who has built and operated a high-catching under-10.

In any other field they would be applauded as the most enterprising and entrepreneurial of their contemporaries. These fishermen have merely been responding to business opportunities and adjusting their business strategy to the regulatory landscape as it was at the time. But it would be profoundly naïve, or disingenuous, to base management policy on the assumption that the under-10m fleet is a homogeneous entity. It is not. The emergence of a high-catching category of under-10s operating on business principles not dissimilar to those in the over-10 fleet, goes a long way to explaining why the under-10m sector faces quota shortages where and when specific shortages have emerged - predominantly in the Thames estuary and Eastern Channel.

Artisanal, Small-Scale Fleet

The bulk of the under-10m fleet however are still recognisable as small-scale artisanal enterprises of limited range which often catch quota species sporadically and opportunistically when available, if at all; the rest of their catch is comprised of non TAC species. The balance of quota to non-quota species varies considerably by area and region.

It would be a mistake to characterise this fleet as moribund or free from dynamic technological developments. It is not. However, its lower dependence on TAC species sets it apart from the high-catching quota dependent part of the fleet and it is important to take this into account when considering policy.

Solutions

We have previously made clear our view that a solution to the real problems facing the under-10s must satisfy four groups:

  • The traditional artisanal under-10s
  • The high catching under-10s
  • The fishermen who operate through producer organisation
  • Government

Our proposed solution which we advance for discussion contains addresses the multi-faceted nature of the under-10m issue but contains three essential strands:

  • Reintegrating the high catching under-10s into the mainstream quota management system.

Membership of existing POs, or a new inshore PO, might provided to achieve this, but equally, progress could be made through stronger formal and informal communications links between POs and super under-10s to ensure effective swap, transfer and leasing arrangements for any under-utilised quota seasonally or permanently available. To some degree this already happens. It is important however would to widen and generalise those links, and to reverse the adversarial and to some degree toxic relationship that has developed and been encouraged.

  • Retaining the quota pool system for the artisanal under-10s with improved intelligence and communications arrangements and effective underpinnings.

The flexibility of the pool arrangements suit small- scale limited range vessels, which need to adapt their operations to the target species available. We propose the appointment of respected industry EMFF funded regional quota management coordinators whose role would be to inform quota managers of catch and quota uptake patterns and projections on a regular and systematic basis and build good communication links with POs. The quota coordinators could be seen as performing the role of proto-producer organisations without the costs and formalities. This would not rule out and in fact could be the basis of more formalised collective arrangements in due course

  • Structural adjustment, where necessary, and targeted at the super-under-10s through a voluntary, publicly funded, decommissioning scheme.

Clearly, the obstacle here lies with the current constraints on public expenditure but notwithstanding present orthodoxies, we are of the view that decommissioning remains a valuable tool for addressing fleet overcapacity and part of the package of measures that will be necessary to resolve the problems facing the under-10m sector.

  • Dealing with the issue of latent capacity is a necessary part of a policy approach.

We already have a dual-licence arrangement which limits vessels/licences without a significant track record of catching quota species to a de minimis amount. It is timely to review that arrangement as part of a wider review of the fishing vessel licensing scheme and also NFFO proposals for ring-fencing the higher catching crab fleet.

Within a wider perspective, however, the advent of a system of MMO physical engine power checks, with the result that a number of vessel owners will be obliged to purchase additional licence capacity, could shortly make a significant impact on the number of inactive licences available. Recent history, when the pelagic fleet was obliged to source whitefish licences, including multiple-under-10m licences suggest that the demand for under-10m licences could be high.

Direction of Travel

Quota management, including the under-10s, does not take place in a vacuum. The overall context of TACs set by the Council of Ministers, EU fisheries policy more generally, and UK government policy can all have a direct and significant bearing on what a small boat fishing a couple of miles from the coast can legally catch.

The draconian reductions in TACs during the 1990s and 2000s as new policy approaches (cod recovery, precautionary approach and MSY) were applied, were a significant factor in removing the quota headroom previously generally enjoyed by the under-10s. It is fair, we believe, to say that the direction of travel is now the opposite direction. Not evenly, or without reverses, but in general terms stocks and TACs are responding to previously applied management measures and perhaps in some cases more friendly environmental conditions.

In any event, generally rising TACs, all other things being equal should make things easier all round, including under-10m quota management issues.

Redistribution

As the issue of redistribution of quota is the subject of legal action it is not our intention to enter that tangled thicket for present, other to say that there have been a number of unhelpful developments that impede rather than facilitate solutions.

We do think that it is worth however, considering the balance of advantage and disadvantage between administrative redistribution and voluntary redistribution. Clearly, Government has taken the view that appeals to producer organisations for quota generated an insufficient response. Whether POs would be minded to release additional tonnages if the implied threat of forced reallocation was removed is an important question. It is possible to say that the adversarial mindsets that have developed have not helped.

It remains our view that:

  • Under-utilised UK quota is indefensible
  • Administrative redistribution is generally fraught with difficulties
  • The UK's system of Fixed Quota Allocations and associated quota swaps, transfers and leasing arrangements may not be perfect but has brought with it many advantages for the bulk of the fleet
  • Identifying quota shortages in specific under-10m fisheries and addressing those specific issues should be at the heart of our policy approach
  • A less adversarial context and stronger lines of communication between under10s and POs at regional level could go a long way to resolving specific difficulties

Channel Cod - a problem on its own

The controversies about the UK's domestic quota distribution arrangements over the last couple of years have tended to obscure the nature of the problem facing fishermen in the Eastern Channel. To state the issue baldly, if the whole UK allocation of Eastern Channel cod was allocated exclusively to the under-10m fleet there would still be a quota shortage. This is because the essential problem lies with the UK's Relative Stability share agreed as part of the CFP settlement in 1983. It is clear that the CFP reform will not affect the Principle of Relative stability and therefore the UK's share of Eastern Channel cod (8.3%) will not alter.

Rather than accept this as a fait acomplis however, we would advocate an active policy which accepts the political realities but focuses on what additionally can be done to secure additional tonnages to close the gap between quota availability and demand.

The central plank must of necessity be a more creative and dynamic approach to swaps and transfers to secure tonnages from the principle quota holder, France which holds 78% of the TAC.

The key to progress on this front lies in:

  • Increasing TAC, which would ease matters all round. A recent UK paper submitted by the EU Commission to ICES suggests that the North Sea cod stock (to which the Eastern Channel is linked) will reach MSY by 2015 on current projections
  • Identifying swap currency in stocks in which France has an interest
  • Identifying currencies not immediately related to specific fisheries which would encourage France to release Eastern Channel cod to the UK (political support for example).

If internal domestic quota distribution is a minor part of the problem the focus must be shifted in a more creative way to where we can make a difference.

Conclusions

If we are to make progress in addressing the acute quota shortages in some under-10m fisheries, it is important that the debate moves from the arena of rhetoric and legal stand-offs to that of practical steps.

Reducing the problem to manageable proportions by focusing on the fisheries where there are acute problems is an important first step. It is also important to stop treating the under-10m fleet as a homogeneous entity. Different parts of the under-10m fleet have very different experiences of the quota system because of their access to alternative non-TAC fisheries.

In many respects the under and over 10m fleets are interdependent, with marketing and infrastructures in common. This suggests a common interest in working together to resolve issues. The NFFO has initiated a process of engagement between the POs and under-10m groups that will hopefully bear fruit.