Fisheries bill change aims to end FQAs

NFFO paper warns of dangers of change

An amendment to the fisheries bill currently passing through parliament seeks to end the fixed quota allocation (FQA) UK quota system that has been in place since 1999, reports Tim Oliver

The amendment has been tabled by several MPs, including former fisheries ministers Ben Bradshaw and Richard Benyon. The latter initiated the top-slicing of underused quota for the under-10m fleet.

It aims to change the criteria for quota allocation from the historic catch records of the FQA system to one using the criteria of the impact of fishing on the environment, and of its social and economic contribution to the local economy when distributing fishing opportunities.

If the amendment is passed, it would mean a fundamental change to the system that has been used to allocate quota in the UK for two decades.

The government’s stance, as set out in the fisheries white paper and the fisheries bill, recognises the strengths of the FQA system, but offers the possibilities of trying other approaches through pilot schemes.

Previous attempts to change FQA holdings have resulted in legal challenges and raised the issue of compensation if FQA holdings are removed.

The Scottish government has spelled out, in its recent consultation paper on future fisheries management in Scotland, that it intends to keep the FQA system as the main means of allocating quota. If a change was adopted as part of UK legislation, it would throw up devolution and fisheries responsibility issues.

In a 16-page document, the NFFO analyses the pros and cons of the FQA system, and concludes that it has delivered sustainable fishing and stability in the industry. Change would be dangerous, and would risk ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.

It backs the government’s approach in the fisheries bill as the responsible way forward. It says there is ‘a high risk of generating undesirable unintended consequences’ if the FQA system was to be changed.

The federation says that the amendment to the fisheries bill is ‘part of an ongoing campaign by environmental NGOs and others to shift quota from larger vessels, which primarily work offshore, to small-scale fleets which mainly operate near-shore’.

It says that criticisms of the FQA system ‘deserve serious consideration, and should be carefully weighed against the evidence and with the alternatives available’.

The most frequent criticisms – which are discussed in the document, with suggested solutions – are that FQAs and quota trading:

  • Lead to haves and have-nots in the industry, and create barriers to access, including to new entrants
  • Have allowed the emergence of ‘slipper skippers’ and speculative holdings, which raise quota lease costs for those who actually catch the fish
  • Cause quota shortage in some under-10m fisheries
  • Lead to concentration of ownership
  • Allow foreign ownership of a national resource
  • Lead to unsustainable fishing.

The paper’s central point, however, is that those behind the amendment have given insufficient credit to the major contribution that FQAs have played in ‘shifting the main commercial fisheries in the UK away from the chaotic, unsustainable fishing patterns that were endemic in the UK in the 1990s’.

It says, “If accepted, the amendment would lead to a reckless experiment, and the abandonment of one of the core pillars of sustainability in the UK fleet.”

Small-scale fleet

The paper acknowledges that UK small-scale fisheries do face challenges, and that it is important that they are addressed.

It notes that the major two-day ‘The Future of Our Inshore Fisheries’ management conference, scheduled to be held in London on 8-9 October (Fishing News, 20 June), is an important event that will explore options for the management of the UK’s ‘multi-faceted inshore fisheries’.

Arguing in favour of retaining the FQA system, the NFFO paper says that ‘over 20 years, FQAs have proved to be well-adapted to the diversity of the UK fleet by providing a highly flexible form of fishing rights, compatible with a wide range of quota management arrangements’. These include:

  • Decentralised, collective quota management through POs
  • Community quotas
  • Corporate holdings
  • Family fishing businesses
  • Holdings by individual fishermen
  • Annual allocations, which allow for planning catches through the year
  • Monthly catch limits, which provide flexibility to change target species
  • Hybrid arrangements, which capture the benefits of both annual allocations and monthly limits for different species
  • Quota swaps and transfers, or sale and purchase of quota, through which unused quota can be moved to where it can be used, enabling the UK fleet as a whole to fully utilise the quotas that are available to it.

As well as this flexibility, the FQA system has also provided certainty and stability that has enabled long-term investment.

“The alternative being proposed, a centralised system with allocation and day-to-day quota management decisions made by government, was an approach left behind decades ago as fundamentally unworkable in the UK context,” says the document.

“FQAs have proven over time to be an adaptable and flexible form of fishing rights.”

The document discusses the arguments put forward in favour of abolishing FQAs – most notably that the system is unfair to the inshore fleets, which are ‘starved of quota’. It acknowledges that the small-scale fleets face shortages and challenges, but questions whether the FQA system is the reason for the problems.

The FQA system has ‘a solid track record in delivering sustainable fishing’, and ditching it would be ‘a significant step into the dark’, into a complex, bureaucratic arrangement that would require extensive centralised supervision.

The NFFO fears that such a system would replace the current effective arrangements with ‘an untested high-risk strategy’ that would carry serious risks to sustainable fishing.

It says it is open to refinements and improvements where it can be shown that they make sense. The fisheries bill, as currently drafted, would allow for this type of cautious, gradual approach.

But the amendment, if accepted, would undermine the custodianship that has been an important pillar in putting our main commercial fisheries on a sustainable and profitable footing.

“In effect, it would throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

The full document can be seen on the NFFO website at:



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