Fisheries Part 9:- Repairing the damage requires careful planning

To recap: Some politicians knew right from the start that the CFP amounted to a betrayal of our fishermen

When National Fishery limits were extended from the 3 nautical mile limit to 12 and then 200/median line in the 1960s and 1970s, British boats which formerly fished far away from the UK found themselves squeezed out of their traditional grounds from the Grands Banks, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Russia. The middle water fleet likewise found itself excluded from Faroese waters.

Under normal circumstances, our fishermen would have been compensated for this loss of access by being given exclusive rights to our new UK Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 miles/median line. Instead, however, the Westminster Parliament decided to give the people’s resource away. They blocked that option and instead of supporting our own industry, preferred to let the fishing fleets of other EU member states catch most of the fish in what are our waters. Now, a visit to many fishing ports around the UK coast will reveal all too clearly the devastation and decline this policy has caused.

John Silkin, the Labour Fisheries Minister did all he could in 1977-8 to try and obtain a British exclusive 50 nautical mile zone, but as he stated in a House of Commons statement on 19th. January 1978, “There was considerable opposition to my demands on this question on the basis that they were contrary to the Treaty of Accession”.

How often have we heard that? “Go and read the Treaties!” It will be a huge relief when Article 50 is finally invoked, as two years later the EU Treaties will cease to apply to the UK.

Five years later on 25th January 1983, Regulation 170/83 had just come into force, which introduced the percentage share out of all individual species, known in the trade as “Relative Stability”, which the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher hailed a great success. Six days later, however, Peter Walker, the fisheries minister, painted a different picture:- “The reality is that if the United Kingdom, instead of demanding anything like the historic proportion of Europe’s fish that it had caught, demanded a 200-mile limit and 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. of Europe’s fish, that would mean the massive destruction of the fishing industries of most of our friends and partners in western Europe.”

In other words, it was anything but a success for our fishermen, although wonderful news for the fleets of other EU member states.

As has been pointed out before in these articles, the quota system was part of the political integrationist agenda. The commitment to the creation of an United States of Europe was far more important that introducing a fisheries policy built on sensible conservation practise. Each member state was given a quota for each species which the National Governments then distributed among their own fleet.

Why, however, did our government allow our allocation to gain a monetary value? Goodness knows, unless they knew that such action would end up with the allocated resource coming into the hands of a favoured few – including foreign hands – and thus getting rid of British vessels in order to comply with our Treaty obligations.

Non-EU quota based systems are not the answer  

Brexit provides us with an historic opportunity to repair the damage which EU membership has done to our fishing industry. Recently, a number of well-intentioned articles and reports have been published on this subject, written by persons with no sea-going fishing experience. The net result has been a number of proposals which, sadly, are of little if any value.

For instance, knowing that Iceland and Norway are not in the EU and have large fishing fleets, some pieces are proposing that an independent UK uses their fisheries management system as a template. Unfortunately, their assumption that a non-EU country would automatically operate a better fisheries management system has proved misplaced. Both Norway and Iceland operate quota systems and thus their fishing industry has suffered similar social consequences – small family businesses have been forced out of the profession, affecting entire coastal communities.

Statistical and factual confusion

This is not the only mistake in some fisheries proposals. The Adam Smith Institute made a mistake in its fisheries proposal with the chronology of the introduction to the 200 mile/median point zone.

Statistics is another area which also needs to be handled carefully. Lumping all the sectors of the fishing industry together is confusing, as within a single heading are several different sectors, from small boats operating near the shore to large deep-water trawlers using different methods of fishing.

So, to take the 2015 Eurostat statistics on overall vessel tonnage, Spain is shown as having double the tonnage of both France and ourselves, whereas statistics based on overall engine power of the total fleet shows Spain and ourselves having only 75% the engine power of the French fleet. This is because different vessels of different horsepower are used for different types of fishing.

Confusion can also occur when considering the tonnage of species caught, as you can catch huge numbers of some species which have relatively little value, whereas with some species, there is great value in small tonnage.

The overall tonnage taken, (in thousands of tonnes) per nation in 2015 was:-

Norway 2146

Iceland  1317

Spain 901

UK 701

France  497

Even given the caveat about the different value of different species, these figures show the massive potential out there. The tonnage for an independent UK, free from the fetters of the CFP, should be the same or better than Norway.

Things get even more complicated if one attempts to calculate how many fish the other EU member states take out of the UK zone, because figures of the percentage share amongst the member states per area zone is broken down by species. The UK may catch as many as 90% of the total catch of one individual species in our own EEZ but as little as 10% of another. Realistically, the figure is about 40% overall, which mean that vessels from other EU member states take 60% of what is the British people’s resource. France has admitted up to 70% of its total catch comes from the British EEZ.

No other EU Member State gave away its own resources to the degree that we did.  We cannot continue to do this, but on the other hand, if on Independence Day, we swung to the opposite extreme and allowed no EU vessel in our waters, the consequences would be dramatic and damaging. What is required is a transitional time-limited process. Fortunately, on Independence Day, when the Treaties and Regulations cease to apply, we will revert back to our Fishery Limits 1976 Act, which functions under UNCLOS  111, through article 62

Utilization of the living resources

  1. The coastal State shall promote the objective of optimum utilization of the living resources in the exclusive economic zone without prejudice to article 61.
  2. The coastal State shall determine its capacity to harvest the living resources of the exclusive economic zone. Where the coastal State does not have the capacity to harvest the entire allowable catch, it shall, through agreements or other arrangements and pursuant to the terms, conditions, laws and regulations referred to in paragraph 4, give other States access to the surplus of the allowable catch, having particular regard to the provisions of articles 69 and 70.

This is a way whereby a transfer of operations could be fairly moved across in a time-limited period, with no permanent right of access conceded.

In my final article, I will look at the benefits  and potential of Brexit fisheries, but it must not be forgotten what Theresa May said in her Conference speech on 2nd October: The authority of EU law in Britain will end. This,after all, is what Brexit is about.

We trust that we can take her at her word and that the future of the British people’s resource and the revitalisation of our fishing industry and coastal communities rests in the hands of our elected representatives at Westminster and no one else.

Restore Britains Fish

It is vital that the opportunities Brexit offers for our fisheries are exploited to the full. In my last piece, I pointed out that we should avoid any attempt to create a shadow Common Fisheries Policy. With the treaties no longer applying once the Article 50 negotiations are concluded, the Regulations which govern EU fishing policy will therefore cease to apply as well. This means that fisheries reverts to national control. In other words, the other EU countries will have no quota whatsoever unless we offer it to them.

In this article, I want to address another important issue. It is vital that we adopt the best practises from those countries who control their own fishing. Professor Philip Booth of the Institute or Economic Affairs recently produced a paper advocating the Icelandic model of fisheries management. I would strongly advise against such a policy. There is a much better model for us to emulate which is closer to home – the Faroese. Advocates of the Icelandic model, like Professor Booth fail understand the complexities of a mixed fishery in the relatively shallow water around the UK. Our fisheries are unique. Iceland’s waters do not contain as many different species as ours. Only the waters around the Faroe Islands, which share the effect of the Gulf Stream with us, are compatible.

Another reason for avoiding the Icelandic Model is that, like the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, it operates a quota system of weight per species per vessel. Norway is similar. By contrast, the Faroese system determines allocation by the number of days at sea. This is a much better system for a number of reasons which I will set out below.

1). The problem of discarding marketable species.

Discarding, whether at sea or to landfill, is immoral. However, with the Icelandic system, unless you can give every vessel a proportion of quota for every species, which is impossible, there will be discarding in one form or another. Even if you could come up with a complete quota system for every vessel and every species, inevitably one quota will run out before others. Of course, officialdom will try to devise ever more complicated ways to prevent discarding, but it is like a dog chasing its tail. It is unworkable.

By contrast, with the Faroese system, there is nothing to discard apart from a few undersized fish. Everything is sold and marketed

2) The effects on Fishermen’s attitudes.

In Iceland as much as the EU, whatever the authorities do to stop discarding, it is impossible in a quota-based system, even though it can appear solved on paper. In a mixed fishery, there is no way to avoid hauling up the wrong species for which a vessel may have no quota or have used it up. What do you do ? There are three choices, all unsatisfactory.

i) Keep them and sell them illegally.

ii) open the cod-end and let them go dead and dying back into the sea.

iii) Land them and incur a cost

A quota system puts pressure on fishermen to cheat if they are to survive.

Under the Faroese “Days at sea” system, everything you catch can be landed to be sold without fear of prosecution.

3) The need to report the catch

Fishermen play a key part in building up scientific data. They are required to report how many of each species they catch and where they were fishing when they caught them.

The quota system, which encourages cheating and discards, will inevitably result in falsified scientific data. After all, if you end up catching species for which you have no quota, it is human nature only to record to fish which you are entitled to catch. Likewise, if you catch a species that you have quota for, but caught them in an area you are not allowed. you will steam to the area where you are allowed and say you caught them there, which screws up scientific data.

Faroese fishermen, by contrast, have no fear of criminalisation. They have no reason to be dishonest and therefore record true data.

4) Fishing effort.

As was noted under 1) above, with a quota system, a given vessel will inevitably use up its quota for one species quicker than for others. In a mixed fishery, this means that when your quota for one or more species has been used up, a percentage of your catch cannot be sold – at least legally. This means lower profitability and more fishing time, along with increased pressure on fishing grounds.

A “days at sea” system means that you can fish without looking over your shoulder. There is one downside. The limit on the amount of time spent at sea means that fishing off the harbour entrance needs to be discouraged. However, with this caveat, the “days at sea” system is much more efficient as overall actual fishing time is reduced compared with the quota system.

5) Relationships between fishermen, scientists and fishery officers.

A quota system results in constant battles and lack of trust. Co-operations between the different groups is minimal as everyone is trying to outwit everyone else. By contrast, all three groups can work in harmony under a “days at sea” system.

6) Individual fishermen’s ability.

If fishermen are given a set allocation of weight per species, it gives little incentive to be innovative, progressive, or to improve. The “days at sea” system gives far more scope for fishermen to excel, benefitting from their own endeavours and maximising profit.

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Given the overwhelmingly advantages of the “days at sea” system, let us now have a closer look at how the Faroese make it work.

  • The harvesting licence is an operating licence issued to an individual vessel. The fishing licence specifies the details of fishing activities (catch and geographical area limitations) in which the vessel is permitted to participate, as well as gear requirements, requirements for reporting of catch data and information on landings or transshipments.
  • All vessels larger than 15 GT must maintain a daily log of their activities in an authorised catch logbook which is issued for this purpose, recording data for each set or haul and they must also have functioning satellite vessel monitoring systems (VMS) in both national and international waters.
  • We are constantly being told that because of straddling stocks, an independent UK must run a parallel system to the EU, The tiny Faroe Islands, however, has no problem in deciding what is best for its own fishermen and those who are allowed to fish in its waters. Faroese fisheries in other zones and in international waters have long been an important part of total Faroese fisheries catches, both in terms of total tonnage and economic value.
  • Faroese fishermen have a long tradition of fishing in foreign and international waters. The Faroe Islands have reciprocal fisheries agreements with neighbouring countries in the North Atlantic region – the European Union, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Greenland. These involve the exchange of fishing opportunities, including offering foreign vessels quotas and access to the Faroes’ zone in exchange for equal fishing opportunities for the Faroese fleet in their zones. These agreements provide Faroese fishing vessels with the scope and flexibility they need.
  • A number of fish stocks of great importance for the Faroese fishing fleet can therefore be fished both in the Faroese fisheries zone and in the zones of other countries and international waters. Managing and conserving these fish stocks is therefore a shared responsibility requiring close international cooperation between all relevant nations in the region.

The Faroe Islands have no resources other than the marine resources, yet they, a tiny nation of only 50,000 people, have been brave enough to introduce one of the most successful fisheries management systems currently in operation. Will we have the courage to break out of the quota mindset and follow their example?

Fisheries Part 3 – There must be no attempt to create a Mark 2 CFP on independence

Many of my fisheries articles have looked back at previous events, but if HMG produces the correct policy, we can finally start to look forward.

In the last article, we pointed out how the Treaties shall cease to apply, taking the Regulations with them. Regulation 170/83 started the EU quota, based on tonnage per species, including the distribution keys to the various Member States, known as relative stability. This cancerous Regulation has now been superseded by another equally dreadful one – Regulation 1380./2013.

The EU’s quota system, like the CFP as a whole, was nothing more than a political tool designed to speed up the drive towards integration. Given that it is widely acknowledged to have been an environmental and economic disaster, it may seem incredible that, with the prospect of an escape from this project now on the horizon, some people are lobbying for the UK to create a sort of Mark 2 CFP on independence, allowing EU vessels the same or slightly less access to British waters as present. Such an outcome would not be Brexit and would continue to be an environmental disaster.

Any sort of shadow CFP must be opposed because the quota system is so unworkable. It has ended up criminalising all EU fishermen, as they have all had to cheat in order to survive. The cheating goes back a long way. It began with falsifying records of how much of which species were caught and where.

Misreporting the species of fish which were being caught and the area in which a given boat was fishing resulted in wrong scientific data and an inaccurate basis on which to determine future quota.

Then there are the unauthorised, so called “black fish” landings. If fishermen have exceeded their quota, they either have to land fish surreptitiously or throw them back in the sea. The authorities have long recognised there is a problem with the CFP, but their attempts to close the loopholes by tightening regulation has only made matters worse. The latest controversy has been the introduction of an unworkable discard ban which, in practise, has not stopped the destruction of thousands of tons of marketable fish. No one knows exactly how much is still being discarded.

It is possible to design gear to separate species, although not to the level necessary fully to prevent discarding. At least this gear does ensure that what is deliberately allowed to escape survives. However, the discard regulations are so complex that not even the fisheries officers are fully conversant with how the rules apply in different areas.

When you are given a quota by weight per species, you end up destroying other species in the process of trying to catch those final few fish, while at the same time prolonging fishing time. For the unique mixed fishing environment found in UK waters, home to approximately 30 different species of fish, you could not have devised a more destructive method of managing fisheries than the discard regulations included in the CFP.

I was the first person to highlight discarding, back in 1988, when I used to write a fortnightly column in the fishing press. Now, 28 years on, we now have a discard ban which looks good on paper, but it is still happening out at sea thanks to the unworkable EU system of quota. I made the discard calculations then on the basis of what I had seen myself when working on board a number of trawlers. Unfortunately, the EU’s current discard rules were written by people who are committed to pursuing an integrationist agenda and who have never been out at sea or understood the difficulties which fishermen are facing.

Of course, an independent UK will need some sort of fisheries management system and we will look at this in more detail in part 4, but it would be crazy to copy a system which is rotten in the core – one that never has, and never will, work in our mixed fishery. Unfortunately, pressure is being applied to do just this – to roll over and give the British people’s resource away again. There are far too many people talking about just negotiating a share of our own resource – in other words, allowing a sort of CFP to continue with the rest of the resource being shared out among the present EU members. To start discussions on that basis is capitulation.

Why is anyone supporting anything even remotely resembling the CFP? Simply because some within the Industry want to keep the status quo in the aftermath of Brexit in order to protect their interests. They have invested millions of pounds in purchasing quota, turning quota into a saleable commodity, for which, if the CFP were to be scrapped, they would have no legal entitlement. With a certain bank having invested heavily in purchasing quota, it and other beneficiaries are creating a great deal of pressure for the UK to create a sort of Mark 2 CFP on independence, allowing EU vessels the same or slightly less access to British waters as present.

Let us be clear on this:- such pressures must be resisted and a policy of procrastination is perfectly sufficient.  Our negotiators need only sit the two years out, do absolutely nothing and wait. As proven by the Kent Kirk case, which we considered in the previous article, if there is no agreement by the end of the two-year period stipulated under Article 50, fisheries reverts to national control. In other words, it becomes our national resource and the other EU countries will have no quota whatsoever unless we offer it to them. Once our negotiators appreciate how strong a hand this deals us, it will be the EU that will be desperate to negotiate with us, not the other way round.

In a future article, I will list the tonnage and value of the catch which EU vessels currently take out of British waters without giving us anything in return. I will also show how much of this freebie we provide them is then sold back to us. The figures will come as something of a shock.

It is ironic that one of the objectives of the EU project was to create a sense of unity among the peoples of European. The CFP has had the opposite effect, causing resentment and nationalism. It would be great to get back to the earlier situation when fishermen were seaman first and foremost, and nationality didn’t matter, but then to understand this camaraderie, you have to have spent time out there at sea, something most EU officials would never dream of doing.

The Common Fisheries Policy part 7: FleXcit: Our fisheries’ future.

One cannot expect to cross examine Prime Minister David Cameron on the issues on which he intends to campaign to stay in the EU if the leavers can’t explain what will replace EU membership. Hence the reason for FleXcit, which contains a lengthy section on Fisheries – from page 267 to 280. Dr. Richard North and Owen Paterson MP had already produced a green paper on the subject of Fisheries and this has now been incorporated into FleXcit

Anyone who campaigns in the forthcoming EU referendum, for the “leave” side, cannot just say that Parliament must repeal the European Communities 1972 Act, and hope for the best. That is not good enough. There has to be an orderly and amicable separation, which is not going to be easy. After 43years of integration, it is going to be a major challenge. However, as far as fisheries are concerned, it is no good scrapping one régime in order to establish another equally bad system. Withdrawal presents us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to show what can be achieved in an area that contains one of the finest marine resources in the world.

The North/Paterson green paper, now part of the overall Fisheries FleXcit plan, is excellent. It is the most exciting prospect for marine management, and for someone like myself who has worked on fishing vessels in many parts of the world, and has been heavily involved in conservation, I know the potential is staggering.

As far as the UK is concerned, the fundamental principle on which a policy should rest is that the fish and other sea creatures within the UK’s fishing zone of 200 mile/median line are the property of the nation as a whole. Custody of that resource lies with the central and devolved governments.

The first priority, therefore, is that control/competence is returned back to Britain. The overall Fishing Industry, while appearing as one, is made of several different groups, often opposing each other. The Industry is as divided now as it was in 1972 when the British Trawler Federation supported the “equal access” principle because they mistakenly thought they would gain access to Norwegian and Icelandic waters.

An inshore industry could be built around the 0 -12 mile limit, which would have a beneficial effect on coastal communities through tourism, recreational fishing, employment and other ancillary industries. All could be administered locally. The offshore Industry would be based on the 12 to 200 mile/median line, and then you have the straddling stocks and reciprocal arrangements, which brings genuine friendship between fishermen of different nations. When other nation’s vessels fish in our waters they would do so under our rules.

Devolved Fisheries Management Authorities (known as FMAs) could be set up. There would be two types: inshore (As far out as the 12 mile limit); and offshore (from 12 to 200 miles or up to the median line). Each would have a small executive board, responsible for policy-making, a consultative council and an executive arm responsible for administration. There would also be an agency, responsible for monitoring and carrying out enforcement action. Members would be appointed independently of the Secretary of State, and inshore boards would be appointed by the local authorities in the relevant maritime areas.

FleXcit’s fisheries proposals are based on the concept of “Days at Sea”. The advantage of this is that there is no reason to cheat. If you are a good fisherman, you will do well whereas a poor fisherman will not survive.

By contrast, the CFP is based on the political tool of quota – it has to be because of the integration process and equal access principle. It encourages cheating and dumping of non-quota catches either on shore or at sea. It is a rigid system trying to impose its will on a fluid and rapidly changing conditions.

Two essential features are needed for a viable fisheries policy. The first is the ability to be able rapidly to close areas down where juvenile fish are abundant. This has to be done within hours, even if the closure period may only last for a day or two. This ability to react quickly will never happen while our waters are under the control of Brussels control. The other important feature of any contemporary fisheries management is the use of selective gear, As a fishing gear designer I need to emphasise that the gear you design for one area is not the same for another area. Even if you are catching the same species, you need to make slight alterations to the gear. This level of adaption is impossible under the policy imposed by Brussels where one set of rules must fit the whole of a large area.

You must have fishermen on side to make this work, but again, under the North/Paterson proposals, this is far more likely than under the current EU- controlled regime. The attitude it has engendered is that if I don’t catch it, some other foreigner, even though it is another EU citizen, will get it, so I will get in first.
With selective gear, as long as the Minimum Landing Size (i.e., below which you are not allowed to sell) is above the breeding size, you can’t overfish, because you are culling the top of the pyramid. If there are no fish of that size, the fisherman will have no catch to sell, and will go out of business, but that is market forces at work, not overfishing.

Personally, I am strongly in favour of the model used by the Faeroe Islanders which operates in a diametrically opposite way to the EU system of setting for each species a total allowable catch on an annual basis, often based on dubious research. In my view it is no good working from the top of the pyramid downwards. Research should be directed at the base of the pyramid upwards; starting with the food source. Once you know the availability here, you can calculate what can be sustained at the top. If for example you have a collapse of the base, you have to fish the top hard, the very opposite to what would happen now.

To explain what I mean, this would be like a situation where a famine is taking place somewhere in the world and another million people are sent to that area to live there. If you don’t have the flexibility to enable fishermen to catch more adult fish, they will simply eat their young. This is exactly what happened in Norway when they destroyed their sand-eel stock. The adults took longer to grow and the fish that survived ate their young, destroying the next generation.. Sometimes one species will increase dramatically, and they have to be fished harder to restore the balance. You can only do this with a system as proposed under FleXcit, not the rigidity of Brussels.

Another area that is totally unfair is that fishermen have come under criminal law, which puts them on a par with drug dealers, thugs and thieves. This is not the way to get maximum co-operation out of those who harvest the sea, for which any successful fisheries régime requires maximum data being collected from the fishing industry. The best penalty for offences is to dock days at sea, and if the operator continues to offend, to take their fishing license away.

Leaving the EU per se is no solution in itself. It is only the beginning. Every badly-designed EU policy will require individual replacement with something better. And fisheries provided a useful example of exactly how a bad policy can be replaced by something better. Largely self-contained in policy terms, it makes an excellent test bed for policy development as well as illustrating the complexity of the repatriation process.

There is no question that it poses a challenge but at the same time the opportunity to do far better – to harvest nature’s gift free of political interference – cannot be ignored. Ranged against us are those who don’t want the Nation State, and those reformists who either don’t understand the workings of the EU, or else who have a hidden agenda. If they really believed in reform, they would want to get rid of the principle of equal access to a common resource without discrimination. However, such reform is impossible because of the thinking behind the EU Common fisheries policy, which is incapable of beneficial reform along the lines suggested here as it violates the very principles of integration enshrined in the EU treaties which it was designed to promote. Unfortunately, so-called reformists never acknowledge this harsh reality.