Memorandum submitted by South Western
Fish Producer Organisation Limited (T8)
Thank you for your kind invitation for us to
submit a brief memorandum to the Committee, highlighting those
issues which we believe to be of the greatest importance to the
fishing industry at this time. Our submission follows the three
focus points given in the terms of reference for the 1998-1999
Since our submissions of October 1998 and April
1999 there have been some developments, especially in the relationship
between industry and the scientific community. However, not all
of those developments have been beneficial.
For example, during the closure of a significant
part of the Irish Sea in 2000, as part of the Cod recovery strategy,
one of our members was involved in a scientific assessment of
the cod by-catch whilst beam trawling. We are pleased to report
that the research was conducted under the terms of Article 14
of regulation 894/97. However, despite clear evidence the by-catch
of cod was extremely low, indeed almost insignificant, a new regulation
was implemented, by the Council of Ministers, to take effect from
January 2001. This requires the back of the net of a beam trawl
to be fitted with a panel of 180mm mesh, 30 meshes in length.
In the case of smaller, 221 Kw beam trawlers using beams of 4.5m
in length, this panel of net extends a long way into the belly
of the net. This results in rolling of the net, excessive chafing
and loss of marketable fish of species other than cod. There is
no scientific reason for this panel and there are no known benefits
to the cod stocks. The motives for its introduction are a mystery!
In contrast, recent work on the Hake recovery
plan for western waters has at least recognised the practical
difficulties associated with beam trawl design. As a result of
proper and timely consultation a more sensible and workable solution
has been incorporated in the regulations soon to come into force.
It is still not clear, however, where the original idea for this
panel of netting came from.
What this example demonstrates is that consultation
with the industry and with the scientific community by those who
draft the regulations is not yet at all times what it should be.
Sadly, once flawed regulations have become ratified their amendment
is a laborious process. The industry suffers commercial losses
without the prospect of compensation, the relationship between
the industry and the regulators becomes strained and respect for
the regulations themselves takes a nosedive.
Although the industry has had more meetings
with scientists during recent years than in the past, we are not
convinced there has been a significant improvement in the lines
of communication. For example, there is no sign yet of the inclusion
of any economic analysis in the determination of TAC's and the
presentation of information is much as it ever was. There has
been no increase in the amount of time scientists spend with commercial
fishermen. At the end of 2000 the decisions to set the 2001 TAC's
were taken without any hint of regard for the inevitable socio-economic
impacts. The earlier decision by MAFF to "bank" quota
from last year for use this year was the only saving grace in
the face of savage cuts. Though this too was fraught with controversy
because the guidelines for "banking" suggest that stocks
must be healthy for it to be allowed, yet the TAC cuts imposed
lead us to believe the stocks are still in critical condition.
Once again mixed messages were received by the industry and confidence
in the science of the fisheries has plummeted to an all-time low.
We appreciate that the decisions of Ministers
are going to continue to be made on the back of the advice presented
to them by the scientists. However, unless there is a significant
and prompt improvement in the reliability of that advice and it
starts to bear some resemblance to the observations of the fishermen
on the fishing grounds, confidence in the decisions of those Ministers,
based as they are on the "precautionary principle",
is bound to remain at this low level.
Recent announcements of financial assistance
for the fishing industry have been paraded by Fisheries Minister,
Elliot Morley, as a £22.5 million "aid package"
and, as such, one would be forgiven for assuming the purpose is
to help the industry to get "better" once this medicine
is absorbed. Sadly, the reality reveals a different story.
This is what's on offer:
£5 million for Cornwall under Objective
1. Local fishing vessels can get funding for improvements to crew
comfort and safety, but catching capacity must not be increased.
Funding is available for "environmentally friendly"
fishing gear. There is money for fish processors, aquaculture
projects and improvements to port facilities. The main thrust
is undoubtedly towards maximising the quality of the products
of fishing. This money is from the European Funds (FIFG) Financial
Instruments for Fisheries Guidance, which was first announced
during 2000 and which will be spent over three years. Five per
cent is government funded.
£5.5 million from the DETR for England
and Wales for training fishermen to become more safety conscious
and for the rejuvenation of fishing ports. This money is from
the Regional Development Fund and will be spent mainly in ports
where fishing has already declined to virtual insignificance.
There is no intention to prompt any resurgence in fishing with
£6 million of FIFG money for the rest of
England and Wales, mainly to be spent in Objective 2 regions and
also targeted at fish processors, aquaculture projects and improvements
to port facilities to aid the maximisation of fish quality. There
may be some spend on crew comfort and safety aboard vessels and
some for fishing gear. This money had also been announced earlier
in 2000 and, again, only 5 per cent is government aid.
£6 million, MAFF funded, decommissioning
or "restructuring" cash. This money has been vired across
from other MAFF budgetary savings during 2000 and is not from
the Treasury. As such it is not "new" money. However,
it will attract a 70 per cent rebate, £4.2 million, from
Brussels under MAGP IV rules! (Multi Annual Guidance Plan IV).
How will the money be spent?
Although Cornish fishing businesses will be
eligible to apply for decommissioning MAFF is unlikely to accept
many bids from the County. This is because there was an outcry
after the previous decommissioning scheme, which ended in 1998.
Large numbers of Hake Netters were taken out of the Newlyn fleet
to the dismay of industry leaders. More recently, the successful
campaign for Objective 1 status for Cornwall has resulted in the
launch of the £5 million scheme. Although the two schemes
are mutually exclusive, it would seem to be inconsistent to pump
money in for regeneration on the one hand whilst scrapping boats
with the other.
The industry will hold talks with Elliot Morley
to discuss how best to use the £6 million. Apparently it
is not exclusively for decommissioning, so there may be other
suggestions. The Minister has, however ruled out aid for laying
up vessels temporarily. This is, of course, because the government
cannot get a rebate from Brussels for such aid and they want to
qualify for the £4.2 million. Only by scrapping the boats
do they actually attract the full 70 per cent! We should bear
in mind also that the government receives taxes from the owners,
who take decommissioning, so the cost to the exchequer of this
scheme is not great.
The DETR funded training scheme for fishermen
is the long awaited replacement for the safety grants, which were
axed in May 1999. New entrants to the industry will be given four
statutory one-day courses, free at the point of delivery. Older,
previously age-exempted, fishermen will be given a new two-day
safety refresher course, also free at the point of delivery. Sadly,
industry demands for the reinstatement of grants for safety equipment
fell on deaf ears. Again, this is all about rebates and treasury
rules. Funding for the training courses is entirely from Europe,
but if the spending were to be on equipment the government would
have to part-fund the scheme. Once again, the government is proving
its lack of commitment to the fishing industry by failing to reach
into its own coffers.
Objective 1 and Objective 2 spending is strictly
regulated. All projects submitted by the industry have to pass
muster and are scored with rigour to ensure compliance and the
aims of the CFP. Undoubtedly some owners will apply for and receive
funding for improvements to their vessels. Few, however, will
spend much money because the average age of boats in Devon and
Cornwall is approaching 30 years. ("You can't make a silk
purse out of a sow's ear!") Most money will go to projects
on shore, for fish processing and a few improvements to port facilities.
It is unlikely, however, that the industry will come forward with
the initial funding for such projects unless there is a sea change
in government attitude. There seems to be little point in expending
vast amounts on industry infrastructure whilst the only message
from government is that the fleet is too big compared to fish
stocks that are too small!
So what is to be done?
Undoubtedly there will always be a fishing industry
in the Southwest, but it will be changing shape over the next
few years. Our waters yield some of the highest quality fish and
certainly the richest variety of fish to be found in the Community.
The risk of any stock being exploited to extinction is infinitesimal.
Once a stock reaches the point where commercial exploitation ceases
to be viable the fleet leaves it alone and it recovers.
But there are other agencies at work.
We are in a European Union and there are others
to whom access to our fisheries has long been granted. The Union
will be extended. Will other new members be granted access? Their
Accession Treaties will reveal the answer.
The Commission of the European Communities has
recently published a "green paper on the Future of the Common
Fisheries Policy". One thing stands out starkly from the
analysis of "where are we and to where should we go?"
and that is that, without a long-term strategy for fishing, the
industry will continue to lurch from one crisis to another. Such
a state of uncertainty is detrimental to the future of the fish
stocks and to our fishing sector businesses and communities.
The only answer is for real and substantial
investment in the industry. Not the derisory and pathetic response
to the problems of the industry that the recent "aid package"
is, but something much more substantive. That is the only way
to bring about stock recovery and sustain the fishing industry
and the communities dependent upon it while the recovery takes
Most observers and commentators agree that a
well-managed fishery around the UK could yield far more income
that is now the case. But each successive government can only
commit itself until the next election and none will have the vision
to look ahead for five to 10 years.
It is not necessary for the government to wait
until the review of the CFP in 2002 to do something. There is
never a better time than right now!
Sadly, all indicators suggest that the industry
will get no more than has been committed. Dressed up as a £22.5
million "aid package" it looks to all the world as if
the government cares and is investing in the future of the industry.
Nothing could be further from the truth but the sham won't be
exposed until it is too late for many fishing businesses and,
more importantly, for the fish!
Without any doubt whatever, the fishing is now
more regulated that at any time in history. However, the cost
of that regime is far greater than the combined fisheries-related
budgets of MAFF, the MCA, the Health and Safety Executive and
the Inland Revenue.
We are told that enforcement "is about
sustainable management", but this message will only be brought
home to the industry where there is trust between the two sides.
That trust simply does not exist!
There has never been any attempt by Government
to set out a clear framework for it strategy on fisheries. MAFF
dictates what the industry must do without explanation or justification.
The annual cost to the taxpayer of fisheries enforcement through
MAFF and the MCA must be well in excess of 10 per cent of the
value of the products of fishing. Yet there has never been an
audit of that expenditure!
The industry must toe the line on a myriad of
rules and regulations, each of which has cost implications for
compliance and each of which carries harsh penalties for non-compliance.
designated landing ports,
logbooks, landing declarations, sales
notes, transport tallies,
fish grading for size and quality
of freshness, minimum prices at first sale,
net sizes and attachments,
engine power declarations,
fire fighting gear, life saving equipment,
navigational outfit, radios,
training, crew certification, risk
limitation of time at sea.
The list is almost endless and, when viewed
against the background of support given by the administrations
of other Member States to their fishing industries, inevitably
leads to the charge that MAFF is determined to destroy our fishing
This Organisation remains committed to supporting
a well thought out conservation policy backed by appropriate and
proportional enforcement measures, which will lead to sustainability.
However, this Organisation believes the regulatory burden administered
by Government departments continues to be over reactive and chaotic.
A fundamental shift to a decentralised policy administered by
those much closer to the resources is a pre-requisite of effective
management for sustainability.
25 April 2001