Realistic UK quota shares answer to discards

Industry leaders message to Lords committee

The best way to cope with quota shortages that threaten to create choke species is to revisit relative stability and change the current quota shares that the UK receives under the CFP, reports Tim Oliver

This was the view of industry leaders when they gave evidence to a parliamentary committee that is conducting an inquiry to assess the effectiveness of the discards ban, after it came fully into force for all quota species in January this year.

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee examined the issue in November and December 2018, and said it found little evidence of the discards ban/landing obligation being followed, despite having been phased in since 2015. They found there was an almost unanimous view that the UK was not ready for full implementation, despite the long lead-in time (Fishing News, 14 February, ‘Discards ban shambles’).

The committee is now following up on the concerns raised during its earlier inquiry, and asked the industry representatives – including the British Ports Association – what impact the landing obligation has had, if any, since it came fully into force in January 2019.

As well as concerns over EU quota shares, the industry representatives called for better communication with the industry, and for the MMO to manage the discards ban better for the under-10m fleet. They emphasised how much fishermen have done in terms of changing their fishing patterns and using more selective gear, to avoid unwanted catches.

The general view was that the landing obligation has not had much impact so far, and that choke species had been avoided up to now. Mitigation tools such as de minimis and high survivability had been very important in preventing early chokes, as had measures agreed at the December Council.

But there was concern that problems will arise later in the year, when quotas start to be used up and quota trading and transfers become more difficult and expensive because there will be a reluctance to let quota go, both internally and internationally.

SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said there had been too much emphasis on a discards ban as a management tool. The Scottish industry did not put discarding at the centre of management, but sustainability. “If you don’t have sustainable and buoyant stocks, you don’t have an industry,” he said.

He and other representatives stressed that fishermen had modified their behaviour and their fishing gear considerably, and that there was continuing work to develop more selective gear.

The fact that no small fish had been landed indicated the success of selectivity and avoidance measures. A bigger problem was fishermen catching marketable fish for which they did not have a quota, and this was due to ‘the elephant in the room’ of the UK not having the right share of quota for fish in UK waters.

“The problems of discarding are largely caused by relative stability,” Bertie Armstrong told the committee.

“If you distribute fish among up to 12 competing nations, depending on the species, in one sea space, in disproportion to what actually happens in the sea, then no amount of fiddling about with quota swapping will actually fix the problems.

“The fundamental systemic fix is sovereignty over our own area and a more sensible distribution of the fish.” He said he was ‘slightly surprised’ that the committee’s earlier report on discards ‘did not pick that up as the central issue’.

He said, “We need to address the systemic cause, which is that the rules are not fit for purpose. That was obvious 10 years ago and is obvious today, and the passage of time will do nothing to make ill-fitting laws work. Unless we address the systemic problem of relative stability, we will be into mitigation upon mitigation.”

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the NFFO, said that mitigation measures had been ‘incredibly important, otherwise we would have seen fisheries closed down in the first half of the year’.

He pointed out that North Sea plaice and dab represented something like 75% of discards in the EU fleet that the discards ban campaign was built on. They are problem species, yet both continue to be discarded. Without mitigation measures – dab was no longer a TAC species and plaice is a high-survival species – the fleet would have been closed down.

He said it was difficult to know exactly what was going on, because it was impossible to monitor thousands of fishing vessels day and night.

Pete Bromley, harbour master at Sutton Harbour in Plymouth, owner and operator of Plymouth Fisheries, and spokesman for the British Ports Association, told the committee that there had been very few extra fish landed following the discards ban. This could be due to the effects of fishermen using more selective gear, and so catching fewer undersized fish.

He said that legislation must allow fishermen to make money and operate profitably, ‘otherwise laws will be bent’.

It was also pointed out that a high percentage of the catch in the South West consists of non-quota species that are not subject to the discards ban, so for many vessels it was ‘business as usual’ regardless of the ban, because it did not apply to much of their catch.

The committee will be taking further evidence later this month from fisheries minister Robert Goodwill and the MMO, on 29 May.

Under-10 quotas badly managed

Jerry Percy of NUTFA, representing the under-10m small-scale fleet, said that little had changed in the sector as a result of the discards ban.

He said that 80% of the small-scale fleet use passive gear – nets, pots and lines – that reduced discarding and were inherently more selective than towed gear, but that this did not mean discards were less of a problem for the under-10s.

One of the main reasons for discarding was a lack of quota, which was ‘a very significant problem’ for the under-10 fleet. They were disadvantaged by the market in quotas, because they had small quotas to start with, and did not have the money to rent quota, as bigger operators did.

Jerry Percy said this would get worse as quota became scarcer, and therefore more expensive, later in the year. The sector’s lack of quota as a cause of discarding was also exacerbated by small boats’ inability to move to other areas to avoid catching unwanted fish, unlike bigger vessels.

Jim Pettipher, chief executive of the Coastal PO, the membership of which is small-scale vessels, said that of the top 25 species that under-10s land, they have less than 2% of the available quota.

He criticised the MMO’s management of the under-10 quotas, but said this was because the staff were civil servants and not fishermen, and their priority was always to make sure that quota did not run out before the end of the year. But this approach meant that quota was not always there when the fish were, such as with area VIId cod, where its track record was ‘appalling’.

He said the MMO also did not have the staff and resources to manage quotas effectively.

Jerry Percy said the MMO had not prepared the inshore sector properly to cope with the discards ban. “The information given to the small-scale fleet is dire, and continues to be so,” he said.

He said a recent scientific paper showed that in the past 30 to 40 years, there had been 3,924 scientific papers about discarding, but only 164 of these examined the issue in relation to the small-scale fleet.


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