‘Minister not looking after English industry interests’

UK fisheries minister George Eustice has come under heavy fire from the NFFO over a deal agreed between DEFRA and Scottish fisheries minister Fergus Ewing to top slice 1,500t of north east Arctic cod quota from an English PO, reports Tim Oliver.

The federation has bitterly criticised the UK minister’s decision to grab quota from the Humber-based Fish Producer Organisation in what it says is a move ‘to appease clamour from Scotland for more benefits’ that is ‘opportunistic and nakedly political’.

The NFFO also says proposed changes in the Concordat that sets out the fisheries management relationship between DEFRA and the devolved administrations is ‘monstrously against England’s interests’.

George Eustice announced the quota transfer during the December Fisheries Council negotiations in Brussels last week. The Scottish minister had said earlier that they had been working for several months on the plan, which had been kept secret from those affected.

Marine Scotland said, after the Council: “Significant wins from this year’s talks also included an extra 1,500t of Arctic cod quota coming to the UK following an increase at the EU/Norway talks.

“This particular measure in the package was secured following several meetings between (Scottish fisheries secretary) Mr Ewing and the UK’s fisheries minister in the run-up to the December talks, and was a key concession wrought from the UK government by the Scottish fisheries secretary.

“This will be available for swaps with other countries to bring in additional quota of stocks that may be running short in the North Sea, such as cod, haddock, whiting and saithe, which is particularly important with more stocks coming under the discard ban in 2017.”

NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas said George Eustice had said that the quota would go to the MMO to help deal with the problem of chokes, so there was a question mark over its ultimate destination.

But he told Fishing News: “Given the secrecy that has enfolded this move and the triumphalist noises coming from the Scottish minister and the Scottish industry generally, it is pretty clear that a substantial part of it is intended for north of the border, either directly or as swap currency.

“That the Scottish government is pursuing an aggressive nationalist agenda is a surprise to nobody. Why government in Westminster is offering concession after concession, to the serious detriment to the English fishing industry, to appease Scottish demands, is less easy to explain. This seems to be part of a wider government strategy to thwart conditions that would favour a second independence referendum in Scotland. As such, this is a nakedly political manoeuvre to the extreme disadvantage of the English industry.

“What is clear is that there is a UK minister but there is nobody at ministerial level that can be relied upon to look after the interests of the English fishing industry. This decision makes no sense in terms of the UK as a whole, which will lose out as a result.

“We are not against moving quota around to deal with potential chokes that arise as a result of implementing the EU landing obligation – if this was done systematically, transparently and across the board, and following proper discussions with those affected. But this is just a crude, opportunistic, highly political quota grab, to appease constant, unrelieved pressure from Scotland. The fact that it hits Humberside, which is not exactly part of the government’s heartlands, should not be overlooked.

“The very minister who is charged with looking after our interests, has shown a contemptuous disregard for the English fishing industry in this matter; and also in agreeing a concordat with Scotland that is monstrously against England’s interests. Time will tell where this quota will end up. But it is no surprise that the Scottish minister was eager to claim joint ownership of the quota grab.”

Barrie Deas said proposed changes to the fisheries management Concordat would be ‘massively to the disadvantage of England’.

He said NFFO boats land a lot of their fish to Peterhead as the predominant North Sea white fish port. “They are saying that if you land more than 50% of your fish in Scotland you are deemed to be Scottish, and have to be administered in Scotland, and Scotland will get your FQAs. So that would mean the end of a distinctively English white fish fleet.

“The two things together mean there is a massive imbalance and nobody is speaking for English interests, which is wholly unacceptable. We need to redress the balance.”

Fisheries Minister response

Fisheries minister George Eustice told Fishing News: “Ultimately, quota is a national resource and the UK government has numerous top-slicing arrangements to help deal with specific issues.

“Fishing organisations have been telling me that they are concerned about the potential problem of choke as we roll out the discard ban. I have therefore responded to these concerns by placing the additional Arctic Cod quota we received this year into a specific fund to be managed by the MMO, to help swap in additional quota for choke species. This was the right thing to do.”

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