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Latest revision as of 14:14, 13 September 2019
British fishermen have agreed to stop fishing for scallops in French waters but will be compensated for loss of income. The negotiations were initiated by the British and French governments after French fishing boats attacked British dredgers fishing for scallops last week. Ahead of the meeting UK fisheries minister George Eustice said that securing a new agreement to end the scallop wars in the English Channel would be "the right outcome".youtube.com Meanwhile the French government said its navy would "step in" if there were any more clashes.youtube.com In a joint statement after the talks in London, the UK and French governments said: "The UK and French fishing industries and governments held constructive talks about scallop fishing in the eastern Channel including Baie de Seine. "An agreement on the principles of a deal has been reached. "The previous agreement involving the UK 15m and over fleet will be renewed. "In addition, there is agreement in principle for UK under-15m vessels to be included in the deal. This is subject to a reasonable compensation package, the details of which will be defined in Paris on Friday.
None of this is directly "caused" by the existence of the much-maligned EU fisheries policy. Nor is it certain - despite glittering promises by the UK and Scottish governments - that Brexit will bring much relief to coastal fishermen. A much-delayed fisheries white paper, now expected this month, will set out the government’s vision of an independent British fishing policy post-Brexit. Drafts circulating within the fishing industry are as slippery as freshly caught mackerel. On the one hand, the document says, the government is open to "alternative approaches to the future allocation of quota". On the other hand, it promises to "recognise" the "business model" which has allowed big fishing companies to buy up (from other fishermen) an indecently large share of catching opportunities in Britain.
The same pattern can be observed in some, but not all, other EU fishing countries. Such accumulations run directly contrary to the principles laid down by the common fisheries policy (CPF). Article 17 of the CFP bans "dominant positions" and calls on member states to allocate their fish quotas according, among other things, to "the impact of fishing on the environment" and "the contribution to the local economy". Since the creation of the CFP in 1983 these core principles have been systematically ignored by Brussels and several member states, but most egregiously of all by successive UK governments. Small, coastal boats under 10 metres, which make up 77% of the English fleet, currently have the right to catch 3% of the total English catch of quota-controlled fish such as cod, haddock, plaice, sole, herring and mackerel.
One super-trawler, British-flagged but ultimately Dutch-owned, has the right to catch 94% of the English herring quota in the Atlantic and North Sea. A recent investigation by the EU lobby group for coastal fishermen Low Impact Fishers of Europe (Life) uncovered the opaque ownership pattern of the half-dozen fish producer organisations (POs), which possess 97% of English quotas. The investigation, entitled Fishy Business in the EU, found that one of the English POs belonged, in effect, to a single Dutch company. Another, the Fleetwood PO, is dominated by UK fishing companies controlled by Spanish interests. In Scotland, foreign companies have been kept at bay but the country’s generous quotas for species such as herring and mackerel have been bought up by a handful of fishing families.
Two-fifths of the entire Scottish catch by value, and 65% by tonnage, was landed by 19 powerful super-trawlers in 2016. Small-scale coastal fishermen, who operate 80% of Scottish boats, have to make do with 1% of quotas. Claims by Ukip and others that the British fishing industry has suffered a calamitous decline "because of the CFP" are misleading. The big British fishing companies and the big boats are doing fine. It is the small-scale skippers and coastal communities who are struggling with operating profits close to zero. This is due not to competition from European boats (with local exceptions in the Channel) but to the failure of UK governments to challenge the "eating up" of quotas by big fishing interests. Much the same accumulation of quotas has occurred in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland. There is a healthier balance in France and in non-EU Norway.
Paris and Oslo forbid the private "ownership" of quotas, which is not enforced by the EU, as some fishermen’s leaders claim. Some degree of concentration of the fishing industry is inevitable and desirable. Small scale-fishermen have a limited range; processing factories cannot be built all around the coastline. The present egregious imbalance between big and small interests is unhealthy: it destroys small coastal communities and hands over entire fish stocks to high-impact - ie more destructive - types of fishing. Coastal fishermen’s complaints have been fobbed off with promises of "hundreds of thousands of tonnes" of new fish for small boats when the UK leaves the EU. Until a few months ago, Michael Gove and others were implying - absurdly - that this great new share-out of fish would happen the day after Britain left the EU in March next year.
This was always implausible. All the same, coastal fishermen feel betrayed by the government’s decision to delay the alleged quota bonanza until the end of the Brexit transition. In theory, this will last to December 2020. The Irish border issue and pressures from British industry and agriculture now suggest that transition may last for up to seven years - or indefinitely. Jerry Percy, chairman of the Coastal Producer Organisation, which was created to acquire more quota for local fishermen in the UK, says the time has come to put aside the Brexit rhetoric. If Michael Gove and others are really concerned about the survival of "iconic" coastal communities, they need to act now and within existing rules, he says.
What can be done? The government has transferred small amounts of "unused" quota from big interests to small in the past. In 2013, one of the big fisheries producer organisations challenged these transfers in the British courts and lost. The final judgment reluctantly accepted that fish quotas were private property but suggested that the legality of this ownership was "built on sand". If the government really cared about small fishermen, it could make emergency transfers of more unused quotas. It could follow the Danish example and move a small proportion of quotas away from private ownership. It could, some experts have suggested, apply a kind of "quantitative easing" to the fishing industry by simply printing more quota allocation licences.
The HM Coastguard Lydd search and rescue helicopter was immediately launched, as well as the Eastbourne and Newhaven RNLI all weather lifeboats to the scene. A mayday relay broadcast was also issued by HM Coastguard asking all vessels in the area to assist if they were nearby. Many vessels responded to the broadcast and also made their way to the scene. The merchant vessel, who reported the incident, picked up two persons from the water and the two people on the hull were picked up by the HM Coastguard helicopter. Kaimes Beasley, duty controller for HM Coastguard said: ‘This was a very successful outcome to what could have been a tragic one. There was a huge effort to rescue these four men in near gale force conditions in the English Channel. Thankfully, all four fishermen have been picked up and despite being cold and wet are otherwise safe and well. The rescued crew were taken to Dover coastguard station where they were assessed by the HM Coastguard Lydd helicopter crew paramedics. The crew do not require hospital treatment but an ambulance is making its way to the station as a precautionary measure to check them over.
Thirty five years ago, on the night EU governments agreed the common fisheries policy, I was in Luxembourg-sur-Mer. I was a freelance journalist working for, among others, Fishing News, the weekly bible of the British sea fishing industry. I say "Luxembourg-sur-Mer" because more than 50 Scottish trawler skippers turned up, representing different ports or regions or sectors of the industry. Most of the skippers, by my recollection, were called "Willie"; there the consensus ended. Some thought that Britain had negotiated a reasonable deal in difficult circumstances. Others were already using the "b" word - betrayal. The three or four English fishing representatives who travelled to Luxembourg were equally divided. Some thought the new common fisheries policy was broadly fair. Others complained that the government had favoured Scottish interests, selling what remained of the cod war-devastated, English, deep-sea fishing industry down the River Humber.
I mention all this because the present debate on fishing and Brexit often obscures two vital points, sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through lies. First, there is no such thing as the British fishing industry. There are many competing interests: English v Scottish; white fish v pelagic (mackerel etc); deep-sea fishing v inshore fishing; industrial v family-scale boats; fishers vs processors. Some have reasons to dislike the EU fisheries policy, but not all. An impression persists that the EU fisheries policy destroyed the long-distance trawler fleets from Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood and Aberdeen, which once put most of the fish into Britain’s fish and chips. In truth, these boats never cast their nets in "British" waters - or what became from 1983, "European waters".
When Britain joined the then EEC in 1973, we accepted the fait accompli of a joint 200-mile European fishing limit (rather sneakily agreed by the six original members in 1970). Margaret Thatcher’s government did force concessions. Some of the British quotas for cod and other prized types of white fish were therefore set, and remain at generous levels - 84% of the available haddock in the North Sea, for instance. This was an El Dorado for the Scottish fleets from Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Shetland, but too late for Hull and Grimsby. It was true then, and remains true now, that about 6o% of the tonnage of quotas within the "British" 200-mile limit went to non-British boats. But two points must be remembered.
The "foreign" boats had fished there for decades, sometimes for centuries. A large part of the "tonnage" of the foreign-caught fish consisted, then and now, of species we do not much like to eat (herring or hake, for instance) or species caught for milling into animal feed. The Danes, for instance, take 90% of the sprats in some "British" sea areas - and they did so long before the common fisheries policy. The common fisheries policy since 1983 is often reckoned to have been a failure. Stocks of some species, especially cod and haddock, fell to dangerous levels in the late 1990s - largely because EU governments, egged on by successive British governments, awarded catches up to 30% beyond what scientists said was sustainable.
The policy of forcing fishers to "discard" (throw back into the sea) dead fish that fell outside their quotas was also rightly excoriated by public opinion. This policy is now being phased out. For the last decade or so, quotas have also been set much closer to the levels recommended by scientists. Haddock stocks are now thriving. Cod is on the way back. Herring and mackerel are much more plentiful than they were in the mid-1980s. Global warming is, however, beginning to mess up the logic of the 1983 quota patterns. Some species, especially hake, are migrating northwards. Since fish refuse to recognise either "national" sea boundaries or existing quota "catch areas", there is a case for radical change, but also for continuing joint management with the EU post-Brexit.
Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and others like to say that the CFP has "destroyed" the British fishing industry or "halved" the number of British fishermen. In fact, in terms of profits of the big fishing companies, the British industry is one of the most successful in the EU. If the numbers of fishermen in the UK have fallen sharply since 1973, it is partly the fault of the cod wars. It is also the result of the sale and concentration of quotas into fewer and fewer hands - something that successive British governments have permitted or encouraged. Thus lucrative Scottish white fish quotas are now dominated by three or four multimillion-pound companies based in north-east Scotland.
Worse, 50% of all English quotas and 88% of Welsh quotas are "owned" by British-flagged ships that are really Spanish or Dutch or Icelandic. One Dutch mega-trawler has the right to catch 24% of the total English quota. By contrast, the inshore fleet - fishing within 12 miles, using boats mostly shorter than 10 metres, with much lighter ecological impact - is allowed just 4% of the total English quota. None of this has anything to do with the EU, which is why you never hear Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage complain about it. The divvying out of national quotas is purely the responsibility of national government. It is time for it to abandon its misleading rhetoric on fishing policy, and put forward reasonable proposals to Brussels. There is no historical or moral case for throwing all continental boats out of British waters. That would only provoke disastrous retaliation against British seafood exports to Europe. There is a case for adjusting the 1983 EU quota pattern in Britain’s favour. There is, above all, a case for small-scale fishing communities to be given a substantial increase in their share of the British catch. That would be a genuine Brexit, and ecological, bonus - even if it has nothing to do with Brexit.
More than a quarter of the United Kingdom’s fishing quota is in the hands of a tiny group of the country’s wealthiest families, an Unearthed investigation has found. Just five families on the Sunday Times Rich List hold or control 29% of the UK’s fishing quota. The finding comes from a new Unearthed investigation that traced the owners of more than 95% of UK quota holdings - including, for the first time, those of Scotland, the UK’s biggest fishing nation. It reveals that more than two-thirds of the UK’s fishing quota is controlled by just 25 businesses - and more than half of those are linked to one of the biggest criminal overfishing scams ever to reach the British courts.
Meanwhile, in England nearly 80% of fishing quota is held by foreign owners or domestic Rich List families, and more than half of Northern Ireland’s quota is hoarded onto a single trawler. The news comes as the government is preparing to publish a new fisheries bill, which will set the legal foundations for the UK’s fishing industry after Brexit. But while the government is hoping it can net access to more fishing rights in the Brexit negotiations, it has said the new bill will not see any redistribution of the UK’s existing quota rights. As Unearthed’s investigation shows, this will leave the bulk of UK fishing rights in the hands of a small domestic elite and a handful of foreign multinationals. Around 29% of UK fishing quota is directly controlled by Rich List families.
Some of these families have investments in dozens of other fishing companies, meaning companies holding 37% of UK quota are wholly or partly owned by these Rich List families. What is a fixed quota allocation? Most fishing rights in the UK are distributed by fixed quota allocations (FQAs).youtube.com An FQA gives the holder the right to land a certain share of the UK’s "total allowable catch" (TAC) of a particular stock. The TAC for each stock varies from year to year, based on scientific advice and negotiations in Brussels. There is an active market in the trading and leasing of FQAs.
The latest revelations follow Unearthed’s 2016 investigation into English quota holdings which revealed that a tiny fiberglass dinghy apparently "held" more than a fifth of the fishing quota for the entire South-West. Now, Unearthed’s first UK-wide dive into the opaque world of fishing rights has uncovered further striking statistics. Those with the biggest hoards of quota can earn millions leasing it to others without casting a net. In one recent case a company got rid of its boat and - while waiting for a new one - carried on earning millions from its quota alone. That boat, the Voyager, holds more than half (55%) of Northern Ireland’s fishing quota. In late 2015 the owners disposed of their old, 76m trawler and ordered a replacement .
Company accounts show that the new Voyager was not delivered until September 2017, and in the meantime, the company made money by leasing out the quota. In 2016-17 the company made an income of nearly £7m from its quota - reporting an operating profit of £2.5m - despite having no vessel for the full financial year. Despite holding more than half of the country’s quota, the new 86m-long Voyager has not landed its catches in Northern Ireland, because it is too big for Kilkeel Harbour. Instead the vessel operates out of the Republic of Ireland port of Killybegs. Unearthed approached Voyager Fishing Company and its owners, but they were unavailable for comment. In Scotland - the biggest fishing nation in the UK, with two-thirds of the quota - the domination of the fishing industry by Rich List families is most pronounced.
But the investigation also reveals how many of those at the centre of one of Scottish fishing’s most infamous episodes - the black fish scandal - continue to dominate the industry. A multi-year police investigation followed, resulting in a series of court cases over 2011 and 2012 in which three fish factories and more than two dozen skippers were hit with fines and confiscation orders for "black landings" of undeclared fish. Unearthed’s investigation found that of the 20 biggest holders of Scottish quota, 13 have directors, shareholders, or vessel partners who were convicted of sea fishing offences in the black fish scandal.
Among those prosecuted were four members of the Tait family - worth £115m according to the Rich List - whose Klondyke Fishing Company is the second-largest quota holder in Scotland. The four men - all skippers on its vessels - were hit with fines and confiscation orders of more than £800,000 for their part in the scam. Two years later, one of those skippers, Peter Tait, 50, reportedly bought the most expensive house sold in Scotland that year. Over the past five years Klondyke has paid out shareholder dividends totalling £56m. Unearthed has reached out to Klondyke but the company declined to comment.
Four years later, the Christina S was among the flotilla of vessels that sailed up the Thames with Nigel Farage, to protest EU fisheries policy weeks before the Brexit referendum. John Anderson is chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation, a huge fish producer organisation which has several members - including the Christina S - that were involved in the black fish scandal. As a result, he continued, the sector had founded the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group to oversee the certification of its main fisheries to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards.youtube.com In England, the UK’s second largest fishing nation, three Rich List families control around 30% of the quota.
A further 49% is ultimately held by Dutch, Spanish and Icelandic interests who have bought up English vessels and quota. The most significant of these interests is Cornelis Vrolijk Holding, a Dutch multinational whose UK subsidiary alone holds 24% of English quota, making it the biggest quota-holder in England, and one of the five biggest in the UK. Matthew Cox, chief executive of North Atlantic Fishing Company, Cornelis Vroljik’s UK subsidiary, said the company had been established in the UK since 1984, employed around 60 UK fishermen, had two UK offices, and had launched a UK apprenticeship scheme. He also suggested that the type of fishing his company does is not well suited for small-scale fishermen.
He added: "North Atlantic does not operate at the expense of small-scale fishermen. ] and whitefish fishing are very different and a simple comparison/substitution between each is not possible. The bulk of the company’s quota is for pelagic fish - which swim at midwater - and it has always emphasised the fact that its nets do not damage the sea bed. Mr Cox said: "Following the 2016 decision for the UK to leave the EU it was very clear early on, to the directors of North Atlantic Fishing, that there would be changes to the UK fishing industry. Small scale fishermen told Unearthed that successive governments have mismanaged fishing rights, allowing quota to be consolidated on a handful of supertrawlers while smaller-scale, low impact fishermen had been progressively starved of access.
Jerry Percy, director of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association, told Unearthed this had resulted in a situation where the smaller inshore vessels that make up 77% of the fleet had ended up with "less than 4% of the quota".youtube.com "This is privatisation of a public resource," added Mr Percy, who campaigns on behalf of fishermen with smaller, under-10m long, vessels. Several also pointed out that many of the biggest quota holders identified by Unearthed were trawlers focused on midwater pelagic stocks, like mackerel and herring. These fisheries, they claimed, were environmentally friendly - with a low carbon footprint and no impact on the seabed - but the fish were too low-value and far from the coast to be attractive to small-scale fishermen. John Anderson is chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation - a huge fish producer organisation with several of the top 25 in its membership.youtube.com Nick Underdown, of the Scottish campaign group Open Seas, said it was hard for smaller boats to take up mackerel quota without investment in onshore facilities to support them.youtube.com "At the moment, the supply chain infrastructure favours bigger boats,", he told Unearthed.
Feel free to visit my blog ... Scallop Wars PEACE Deal: VICTORY For UK Fishermen