Initiatives needed to help inshore fleet

An inshore fishermen’s leader has spelled out that the Brexit delay will create major problems for the under-10m fleet, reports Tim Oliver

But he says the almost three-year wait before the UK can be free of CFP should not mean all initiatives to help the inshore fleet should be shelved.

Jerry Percy, chairman of the Coastal PO, said the extension of the CFP ‘status quo’ until January 2021 (at the earliest) following the Brexit transition deal ‘does not bode well in terms of meeting the aspirations of the fishing fleet in general, and the inshore fleet in particular’.

His comments came in a letter to Waveney MP Peter Aldous, who organised the recent Renaissance of East Anglian Fishing (REAF) conference in Lowestoft, where Jerry Percy was a speaker (Fishing News, 29 March, ‘Renaissance of East Anglian Fishing Conference’).

Jerry Percy.

Jerry Percy.

But he said it is ‘vital that we keep the positives that came from the conference at the forefront of our minds’.

He tells Peter Aldous: “Although the REAF initiative was born out of and largely predicated upon a post-Brexit scenario of a massive windfall of additional quota together with the exodus of the vast majority of EU vessels from UK waters, especially the six- to 12-mile zone, pragmatically, that scenario is increasingly looking like something of a pipe dream.

“It should not, however, dent our collective resolve and commitment to take forward the sorts of initiatives that we identified at the conference.”

Jerry Percy, who was also writing on behalf of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA), said many of the ideas for reinvigorating the coastal fleet such as quota reallocation, economic link benefits, shortened supply chains, added value processing and domestic marketing campaigns were just as relevant as they would be following a successful Brexit.

The Brexit transition deal means British fishermen will be subject to the CFP in general and in particular to the landing obligation for the period, but with a ‘much reduced influence’ on the annual negotiations, he writes.

He highlighted that ‘as ever, the almost entire focus of those in authority, along with Seafish and those representative bodies supported by the larger-scale sector, has been on the effects of the landing obligation on the bottom line for the bigger boats’.

He pointed out that of the 3,924 studies relating to this subject in recent times, only 164 have been concerned with the small-scale fleet.

“Our immediate concern must be on how we can work to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impact of the full landing obligation that comes into force in 2019, on the inshore fleet,” Jerry Percy tells Peter Aldous.

“Our immediate concern must be on how we can work to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impact of the full landing obligation that comes into force in 2019”

“Many of these operators were hanging on by their fingernails in the hope that Brexit would save them from bankruptcy. An almost three-year transition period, together with the inevitable delays in then implementing any successful outcomes – that are in no way guaranteed at this stage – would undoubtedly result in the decimation of much of what is left of our sector.”

He asked fisheries minister George Eustice at the conference to protect the six- to 12-mile zone after the London Agreement ends, to give the inshore fleet more space to work in ‘unmolested by EU trawlers’ – although this would not provide the under-10s with the additional quota ‘we so desperately need’.

This action would ‘draw a line in the sand in terms of signaling our intentions within the negotiations’. But it was ‘doubly unfortunate that the capitulation by the government, and the minister’s reluctance to respond positively to my comment’ had undermined this opportunity.

“If we are genuinely intent on saving the under-10 fleet, then it is right to consider how else we might obtain access to more fishing opportunities.”

‘Reallocate quota based on profits’

Jerry Percy said a study by the New Economics Foundation had looked at the economics of ‘reallocation of a small amount of quota from the large- to the small-scale sector’.

Noting that the profit margins for the larger-scale fleet are about 20%, while those of the under-10s ‘are bouncing about at around 0%’, he said the study indicated that ‘profit was as fair a determinant for access to this public resource as any’. It clearly illustrated ‘the very low impact such a reallocation would have on the profits of the large-scale sector while at the same time making a meaningful contribution to the survivability of the under-10 fleet’.

The under-10s have to make clear that amid all the clamour surrounding the Brexit negotiations and the unknown outcomes, ‘the steady decline of the under-10 fleet is clear for those who care to look’. It would need only a ‘relatively small amount’ of government resolve to ease the pressures created by a lack of quota.

“There is a simple choice between fewer and fewer large-scale – and often foreign-based – operators making a fortune or a far greater number of smaller local vessels making a living,” Jerry Percy concluded.

He said NUTFA and the Coastal PO are ‘ready and willing to assist in any way we can, to ensure the survival and prosperity of the inshore fleet and the coastal communities that they support’.


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