A leading figure in the UK fishing industry for over a quarter of a century has announced that he will retire next year, reports Tim Oliver.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the NFFO, will retire in April 2023, when he will be 70, after a total of 38 years with the federation, 26 as chief executive.

“It seems about the right time to call it a day,” he told Fishing News.

“There is a robust process in place to find a replacement, ensure the post is filled within that time and to allow whoever is chosen to get his or her feet under the table. In the meantime, everything will carry on as normal.

“I told the federation before last Christmas, 15 months ago, that I would be retiring, so there should be a smooth transition.”

He says he will remain ‘fully engaged’ during the autumn negotiations and through the Christmas period and into spring next year on all the big issues, such as the spatial squeeze and the development of fisheries management plans.

Barrie Deas joined the NFFO in 1985 as assistant to then chief executive Nigel Atkins, who was later succeeded by Richard Banks, from whom he took over as chief executive in 1995.

This timespan means he has worked for the federation for 38 of its 45 turbulent years of existence, which has seen momentous changes such as the move to the post-1973 CFP regime, devolution, many changes of UK government, the ever-increasing influence of the environmental movement, rapid advances in technology, Brexit and much more.

“People get a lesser sentence for murder!” he joked. “Seriously, I’ve enjoyed it, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed – it’s been an honour and a privilege, and a very interesting and exciting career.”

He was awarded the OBE in 2008 for services to the fishing industry, and as well as his NFFO job has held many other important roles. Before Brexit he was chair of the North Sea Advisory Council’s demersal working group, a member of the executive committee of the North West Waters Advisory Council and one of the vice presidents of European fishing industry group Europêche.

He is currently chair of the Shellfish Industry Advisory Group, which is centrally involved in drawing up fisheries management plans for shellfish.

Era of rapid change

Speaking to Fishing News, Barrie Deas reflected on some of the ‘enormous’ changes in the industry he has seen in his long career, and commented that the industry is still ‘in the middle of rapid change’.

One area that has seen great change is the industry’s engagement with scientists, which has advanced considerably in recent years

“The engagement with science is a really big thing, and one I’ve been quite keen on,” he said.

“ICES used to be a ‘black box’ that just emitted smoke once a year, and you weren’t allowed to peer into the box or question the mechanics – that was the industry interfering with the science – but now there’s a huge amount of engagement, so much so that we can’t accept all the invitations we’re given to participate.

“Another important issue is fishermen being able to show where they fish and what they fish for. It was always important, because track records were made or not made depending on what was or was not being recorded.

“But there’s a recognition now that the spatial squeeze is real, and to defend your fishing opportunities, your fishing grounds, you need to be able to demonstrate with data what you are doing – there has been a big shift in the last few years in that direction.”

The growth of the environmental movement has been, and remains, another fundamentally important influence on the industry.

Barrie Deas said the industry’s relationship with the greens had been ‘a rollercoaster ride’. There was a good working relationship with some of the NGOs until 2013 and the reform of the CFP, when there was a shift towards a much more adversarial relationship, he noted.

But he said there was now a better relationship with some of the green NGOs, demonstrated by an online meeting he had last week with the WWF, RSPB and Marine Conservation Society on remote electronic monitoring (REM).

“The NGOs have seen REM in the past as a kind of panacea, but we had a very constructive discussion on the role REM can play in defending fisheries and policing by consent and resolving some of the management issues.

“Cameras have an important role to play, but not in a top- down policeman kind of way – I think that would put REM back a decade and would unite the industry in opposition, as happened in the days-at-sea fights we used to have back in the 1990s.

“There are signs that some of the NGOs are edging back to a more collaborative dialogue with the industry, but there are some like Greenpeace that are beyond the pale and always will be because that’s their business model – they’re not interested in dialogue and discussion.”

Reflecting on Brexit, Barrie Deas said the industry was ‘massively disappointed in terms of the fishing opportunities that were secured that don’t reflect the UK’s status as an independent coastal state’. But he said he believed that there will be opportunities in the future, with the evolution of fisheries management plans and ‘a move away from the landings obligation to something a bit more sensible’.

“The industry is like cork bobbing on a rough sea, whether it’s devolution politics, European politics, green politics or energy politics. We seem to be at a crossroads with so many of these strands, and the industry has to deal with all these things that are thrown at it.

“It’s certainly been interesting, and I’m sure it will continue to be.”

To find out more on how to apply for the position of CEO at the NFFO, click here.

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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