The 46th NFFO AGM, possibly the last before an election in 2024, was held in the historic Watermen’s Hall in the City of London last Wednesday afternoon, after a National Executive Committee meeting held earlier in the day. MPs from the three main UK parties made themselves available for Q&A sessions with the NFFO membership.

The meeting was chaired by Tony Delahunty, in the absence of Andrew Pascoe, who could only attend online. Outgoing chairman Paul Gilson paid tribute to the support he’d received both from NFFO members and NFFO staff during his time in office.

“Never did I realise what this role would involve, but I quickly realised that listening was the most important,” he told the AGM. “Two of my friends have retired this year, Ned ‘Two Plates’ Clark and Bob Casson. Both will be missed for their sound advice within the NFFO over very many years. However, I have four very good friends that I work with and talk to daily – Mike Cohen, Mike Roach, Charles Blyth and Joanna Lenehan – the NFFO team.

“When someone attacks the NFFO and says: ‘What do you do? What does the NFFO do for me?’ – I tell them to follow these guys, shadow their working day.

“I have had the privilege to meet and visit many people and places in my tenure as chairman – I must apologise to our new Welsh members, I promised to get to see you, and failed.”

He rounded off his speech with comment on an issue that is continuing to cause many fishermen sleepless nights: ML5 medical certification.

“For those of you with some influence, please take onboard my comments. The medical is destroying lives and relationships, and making fishermen feel worthless and unable to support their families. There is no evidence that this draconian medical is needed for safety reasons in smaller vessels. Fishermen are proud and hardworking – the medical is denying fishermen both.

“Please think again.”

Pelagic talks ‘difficult’, says minister

Mark Spencer had had quite a fishy day. After meetings with a variety of NGOs concerned about fisheries, he had also met earlier in the day with UK fishermen, including those attending a further NEAFC session in London.

The six parties involved in the ongoing impasse over pelagic TACs – the UK, EU, Norway, Faroe, Iceland and Greenland – were in further discussion about allocations of mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting.

Agreement on 2024 TACs was expected to be reached at the meeting, with the thorny issue of TAC shares once again being postponed to a future NEAFC meeting.

Minister Spencer conceded that the NEAFC talks were difficult, with Faroe in particular proving hard to engage with constructively. The sudden sacking of the well-known and longstanding Norwegian fisheries minister Bjørnar Skjæran last week may, he suggested, provide some opportunity for a more sensible engagement with Norway on its own unilateral demands for quota increases.

Mark Spencer also expressed surprise at the attitudes of UK NGOs on the subject of pelagic quotas. Whilst they seemed happy to criticise UK fishermen and fisheries managers, over issues where the UK industry has taken a strong line on following the best scientific advice, they weren’t engaging or supporting the UK line on sustainable management that was being hampered by the activities of other nations, he said.

MPs set out election stalls

Defra minister Mark Spencer attended the NFFO AGM virtually, with Labour shadow fisheries minister Daniel Zeichner and Orkney and Shetland Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael attending in person.

All three, conscious of the fact that this might be their last chance to address the NFFO ahead of the next election, were remarkably honest in their assessments of the current situation, and in provision of advice to the audience. Whatever differences of opinion exist between the MPs and fishermen, it was clear to an outside observer that a high degree of mutual trust and respect has been built between those present.

The informal meeting was an opportunity for a genuine and constructive dialogue, so FN can’t betray confidences and certainly wouldn’t undermine the considerable efforts made by all sides to develop relationships, and to go beyond soundbites.

But on certain issues, all three MPs provided some remarkably similar advice to federation members. Astute FN readers will be able to assign each of the following three quotes to the respective MP, but we are giving no secrets away.

“You may not see a lot of sense this side of an election. But our manifesto needs to be written, and there is a chance for the NFFO to influence what we commit to within it.”

“I can’t make you false promises. Election manifestos often are full of nice-to-haves and platitudes, with the detail discussed later, but this is where the NFFO’s technical briefings and input can be really effective.”

“The election may see a result where well-briefed MPs can make a real difference to delivery of manifesto promises of all parties, and I urge you to maintain constructive dialogues.”

The wide-ranging discussions allowed NFFO attendees to go into detail on many of the issues continuing to frustrate them, in particular the overload of consultations relating to FMPs, ongoing issues with spatial squeeze, the threat that zero TACs may have on a variety of mixed fisheries if implemented in a draconian manner in 2024 – and, of course, issues around the MCA.

Responses, whilst not all to the liking of those listening, did show the level of understanding across the issues that all three MPs have developed, which can only be welcomed.

On the MCA, if not on other subjects, there was unanimity from the three MPs present. All acknowledged their own concerns about the implementation of the Under-15m Safety Code and the rapidly approaching deadline for the ML5. All three confirmed their willingness to engage further with the Department of Transport directly about this, having already made clear their own concerns about implementation and interpretation to the department.

Speaking the day after the AGM, NFFO chief executive Mike Cohen told FN: “Politicians who speak to us honestly are worth infinitely more than those who just say what they think we want to hear. The NFFO met with three of the former yesterday.

“Those frank and valuable conversations will greatly help the federation in its task of advocating for our industry. I’m grateful to all our speakers for giving their time and their opinions.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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