Turbulent times for UK fishing

Fishing in the UK and the whole of Europe is going through upheaval on a scale that hasn’t been seen for decades – if at all – first with the Landing Obligation, and followed by the UK’s decision to part company with the EU, and with it the Common Fisheries Policy.

Quentin Bates

Barrie Deas, the longstanding chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the organisation representing a substantial proportion of the English fishing industry, agrees that we are going through some very strange times – starting with the Landing Obligation that finally came into full force on 1st January this year.

‘The rules were still being made up to two weeks before the rules came into force, which is hardly good governance,’ he pointed out.

NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas

‘It’s not clear how the new rules are working, and it won’t be clear for some months. We’ve managed to avoid the most immediate chokes. We have an idea of the most vulnerable stocks, but how we avoid chokes for the whole year is an open question. There’s a bumpy road ahead in terms of chokes and enforcement.’

The Landing Obligation represents a radical change for both the fishing industry and fisheries management, shifting the focus of the enforcement authorities from the points of landing and to many thousands of fishing vessels operating across ‘vast marine areas.’

‘The enforcement authorities admit that it’s unenforceable,’ he said, adding that the catch-all solution favoured by NGOs, placing cameras on fishing vessels, is only applicable to some classes of fishing vessels, in particular for skippers who are determined to demonstrate compliance.

Cameras on board have their uses, but the NFFO warns these are not the panacea the NGOs see them as

‘Cameras are not the panacea that the NGOs seem to regard them as, and this has to be treated with some sense of proportion. As a parallel, there could be a device in every car that automatically generates an email to the owner and issues a fine whenever a speed limit is broken. The technology is there to do it. But we have to fall back on what’s reasonable,’ he said.

‘If the intention was to choke the courts with fishermen, then this could have been done years ago, acting on margins of tolerance. It’s difficult, but there will be solutions. There will be a workable Landing Obligation,’ he said, commenting that while there will undoubtedly be prosecutions at some point, the intention is to avoid seeing the full weight of the law coming down hard on someone in a high-profile test case.

‘We are keen – as is the government – for a collaborative approach to this. We’ve been working with DEFRA, the MMO, retailers and processors on this, plus a lot of preparatory work had been done in terms of selectivity and avoidance. The Advisory Councils have provided a lot of advice, and there are flexibilities and exemptions,’ Barrie Deas said.

‘All the same, it’s still a massive change and the result we would want to see is a high level of compliance – rather than a high rate of prosecutions.’

The ideal outcome of the Landing Obligation is a high level of compliance – not a high rate of prosecutions

With Brexit on the horizon, it has been made clear that the principles of the Landing Obligation, in landing all quota species, will remain part of the UK’s post-Brexit fisheries management. This is expected to include provision for landing over-quota by-catch, but with the economic value of that fish removed.

‘It avoids chokes, but takes away any incentive to target those species,’ he said, commenting that discards to some extent will always be part of the picture.

‘Only the delusional would think that discards can be completely eliminated. There are no examples of that happening in zero-discard fisheries around the world, but we can work towards minimising discards as far as possible.’