NFFO: ‘Vigilante action illegal and reckless’

The NFFO has written to Boris Johnson, leaders of the main opposition parties, and UK fisheries ministers and shadow ministers, pressing them to condemn Greenpeace’s ‘most recent publicity stunt’ of dumping 15 boulders in the Channel off Brighton ‘in unequivocal terms’, reports Tim Oliver.

The federation points out that it has previously written to the MMO demanding action ‘to prevent escalation to the point at which we are dealing with a tragedy and not just media-savvy bullies’.

Chief executive Barrie Deas tells the politicians that Greenpeace’s actions aim to ‘obstruct legitimate fishing activity in the Offshore Brighton MCZ’ and asks: “We want to know where you stand on this type of illegal activity.”

Image: The Greenpeace vessel Esperanza dumps a granite boulder – one of 15 – in the Offshore Brighton MCZ on 23 February. (Photo: Suzanne Plunkett/Greenpeace)

He says: “We all know that political parties court the green vote. For the record, we fully acknowledge that, as an industry, we need healthy seas and a functioning ecosystem, and that well-planned and implemented Marine Protected Areas have a role in achieving these objectives.

“But we want to know if you publicly condemn, in unequivocal terms, vigilante action that is illegal, and recklessly endangers crews and fishing vessels.

“Whatever differences we may have with the government over the implementation of its policies on Marine Protected Areas, we need to know that we are not moving into an era where policy is dictated by media-savvy bullies.

“In short, we need to know whose side you are on,” says the NFFO chief, calling for a response ‘as a matter of urgency’.

The federation gives ‘full credit’ to Labour shadow fisheries minister Luke Pollard, who has responded to the NFFO’s letter by publicly disowning Greenpeace. He denounced its dumping of boulders that have the potential to endanger vessels in the vicinity of where a fishing vessel was recently lost in tragic circumstances as ‘tone deaf’.

The federation reports that Greenpeace has responded to its defence of fishermen by issuing a freedom of information request to the MMO, demanding copies of all agendas and reports on meetings with the NFFO.

Telling Greenpeace that ‘we can help!’, the federation has published on its website a letter it sent to the MMO last year, where it says: “It is quite plain that Greenpeace believe that they are operating under an umbrella of impunity and will continue, and possibly escalate, illegal activities against the fishing industry at the time and place of their choosing.

“The fishing industry has the right to demand protection and immediate and proportionate enforcement action. Proportionate in this context means that penalties and enforcement action should be on a scale to have a dissuasive effect on Greenpeace’s future illegal activities.

“You cannot but be aware of the effect that the MMO’s lack of action on this issue has on the fishing industry’s morale and perception that they are not being dealt with in an even-handed way.

“Greenpeace may have friends in high places and the media, but this cannot abrogate the MMO from its responsibility to execute its duties fairly, proportionately and in an even-handed manner.”

Marine lawyer Andrew Oliver of Hull marine legal specialist Andrew Jackson said on the Fishing News Facebook page that the government and its fisheries managers were ‘rapidly losing the industry’s confidence’ because of their failure to act against Greenpeace.

He said: “If a fishing vessel was observed breaking the law subject to risk assessment, it would be boarded or detained to port. Why not the same for the [Greenpeace vessel] Esperanza?

“Today a client has received an invite to interview with MMO for alleged paperwork discrepancies over a two-year period. This invite is the first they knew of this. No warning letters, advice, verbal warnings, guidance, education or the like.

“If this has been in error occurring for two years, they had plenty of time to give advice and warn rather than go straight to interview under caution, in clear breach of their own enforcement policy.

“Perspective and common sense are required. I was a Brexiteer, but maybe the EU machine did keep the eNGOs at bay, whereas our government seems to be in fear of upsetting them and is being bullied into submission.”

Greenpeace said the boulders would protect 55 square miles in the Brighton MPA from ‘destructive industrial fishing ships’ which spent over ‘3,000 hours bottom-trawling in the MPA in 2019’.

“Until this broken system changes, it’s up to us to step in and stop the destruction,” said a spokesperson.

“We immediately notified the relevant marine authorities (MCA) as to the precise location of the boulders bordering the protected area. This will ensure their positions are accurately recorded on marine charts so other ships can safely navigate the area.”

The spokesperson added: “We’re also here to expose the government’s failure to look after its so-called Marine Protected Areas all around the UK.”


Subscribe to Fishing News magazine today; never miss an issue and save 55%!