Labour: ‘We’ll back small-scale fleet’ – More quota promised in fisheries bill debate

Labour MPs called for a redistribution of quotas during a debate on the second reading of the fisheries bill that will set up a new fisheries regime in the UK after Brexit, reports Tim Oliver

UK fisheries ministers Michael Gove and George Eustice acknowledged a need for change, but said this would be limited, and would take time.

Labour shadow fisheries minister Sue Hayman said the current distribution of quota is not fair, and that more than a quarter of the UK’s quota is owned or controlled by just five families on the Sunday Times ‘rich list’.

“Many in our coastal towns and smaller fleet want to know when they will get their fair share of the existing national quota,” she said.

She said there was ‘a clear lack of proposals’ in the fisheries bill to redistribute existing and future quota ‘so that the small-scale, often family-owned, boats can get a fairer slice of the pie’. Labour would bring in amendments to improve that situation.

Luke Pollard from Plymouth (Labour) said Labour wants smaller boats to be given a greater share of quota after Brexit. “Small boats are the backbone of our fishing industry – the small and medium-sized enterprises of the sector – and they need our backing.”

“The small-scale fishing fleet generally uses low-impact gear, and creates significantly more jobs per tonne of fish landed than the large-scale sector. In the UK, the under-10m small-scale fleet represents more than 70% of English fishing boats and 65% of direct employment in fishing, and it should be supported.”

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said he had asked the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look into ‘who holds the quota, where they got the quota from, and whether the quota might be better distributed, and that it considers the idea of community and geographical quotas’. “Community quotas have worked very well indeed in other areas,” he said.

Alan Campbell of North Shields (Labour) welcomed any emphasis on a quota increase for smaller boats, but said that the bill as drafted ‘is in danger of missing an opportunity’. “If the largest five quota holders control a third of UK quota, and half of UK quota is currently owned by big companies based overseas, there has to be an opportunity for a much fairer approach,” he said.

Michael Gove said leaving the CFP would provide an opportunity to reallocate quota. But for some quota, such as for pelagic stocks, the under-10m fleet would be ‘poorly placed to take advantage of reallocation’ because of where pelagic fish are found. It was ‘absolutely right’ to say there is a case for reform, but ‘a significant amount of quota’ could not, at this stage, be allocated in the ways being suggested.

But he said the bill was an opportunity to say to fragile coastal communities, “There is real hope, and a chance of an economic renaissance. Your suffering has been recognised, and we can make a positive difference.”

Fisheries minister George Eustice said the government had been clear in its fisheries white paper that it wanted to move to a different method of allocating quota to the UK fleet.

“We have also set out proposals in the white paper to allocate new quota on a different methodology, so that it does not simply follow FQA unit allocations. In the longer term, we could obviously change the allocation keys on the existing FQAs, but the legal advice, based on case law, is that that would have to be done gradually, over a period of time.”

He said that some of the figures ‘bandied about’ in terms of quota ownership could be misleading. “There is a huge difference between the small inshore vessels, which are limited largely to the 0-12-mile zone, and the pelagic fleet, which has huge vessels with huge capital investment, and for which mackerel is by far the largest stock.”

He said the bill was ‘absolutely explicit’ that the selling of quota rights, and the tendering and auction processes, will be devolved, and that the clause in the bill referring to this applies only to England. The licensing of foreign vessels is devolved, but ‘with the consent of the Scottish government and others, the MMO might issue a single licence for the whole of the UK’.

On any possible change to an effort-based regime, he said, “Generally speaking, a quota system makes the most sense for the pelagic fleet, while an effort-based regime could make more sense for a small inshore fleet. We have set out a proposal in our white paper for further pilot schemes in this area, particularly for the inshore fleet, but it is not an area that we should rush.”

The bill passed its second reading, and will now go the committee stage.

KFO encouraged by UK-EU declaration

Seán O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO),  welcomed the Brexit declaration as having achieved specific acknowledgment of, and reference to, the crucial issue of the linkage between access and quotas and the wider trade issue.

“I have always maintained that the key to a successful fisheries outcome is linking access and quota share to the wider trade negotiations,” he said.

Paragraph 75 of the text states: “Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.” A new EU-UK agreement on fisheries would form part of the overall new relationship between the two. The sides would aim to ‘conclude and ratify their new fisheries agreement by 1 July, 2020’.

Building on the momentum of last week’s publication of the draft withdrawal agreement and outline political declaration, the Irish fishing industry is currently relatively well-placed to avoid a disastrous hard Brexit.

Seán O’Donoghue continued, “While we are quite encouraged by the documents we have seen to date, I said last week that strong foundations have now been laid, but we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. We’ve begun well, but we’re not even at half-time yet. We know only too well from experience that fisheries negotiations are multi-faceted and highly complex, and much remains to be agreed.

“We firmly believe that the future framework for fisheries, after the transition period, needs to maintain the current levels of reciprocal access to waters and markets, as well as sound science-based fisheries management. The text presented to date takes the first steps to deliver on this, and we look forward to productive negotiations in the near future.

“Ireland’s two biggest fisheries, mackerel (60%) and Nephrops/prawns (40%) are hugely dependent on access to UK waters, with overall dependency for all stocks of over 30%. Maintaining reciprocal access to waters and resources needs to be at the heart of the post-Brexit relationship in fisheries, given the historic ties and inextricable links between our countries and industries.”

‘No link between fisheries and trade’, says government

The government says that the UK’s red lines on fish have been protected in the political declaration between the UK and the EU on the long-term relationship between the two.

The declaration was signed on Thursday, 22 November, and was due to be formally approved at a crucial summit of the other 27 EU ministers last Sunday (25 November).

It acknowledges that the UK will be ‘an independent coastal state’, with the rights and responsibilities that entails.

The EU wanted ‘existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources [to] be maintained’, but this has been rejected – there is no commitment in the political declaration to maintaining existing access, says the government briefing on the document. Instead, there will be a fisheries agreement that is a separate agreement and a separate negotiation to the free trade agreement.

This is similar to the arrangement between Norway and the EU.

The UK has consistently said that when we leave the EU:

  • We will be an independent coastal state and will be outside of the CFP
  • We will be able to control and manage access to fish in our waters
  • We will be seeking to move away from relative stability towards a fairer and more scientific method for future shares of fishing opportunities

Fisheries will be a separate strand of our future relationship with the EU.

“The political declaration protects these positions,” says the government briefing.

It says the text provides for the establishment of a new fisheries agreement on access to waters and quota shares. “Nothing in the agreement prescribes the content of this agreement.

“Access to fish in UK waters will be a matter for negotiation, along with new arrangements for sharing fishing opportunities.”

This is similar to the EU’s relationship with Norway and the Faroe Islands, in which binding legal agreements set a framework for annual agreements on access and fishing opportunities. They also provide for co-operation on fisheries management and scientific research. The parties then negotiate annually on access and quotas which will apply in the following calendar year.

“We believe these agreements provide a good model for a future bilateral agreement between the EU and the UK,” says the government.

The EU negotiating guidelines that were adopted in March 2018 provided that ‘in the overall context of the free trade agreement, existing reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained’.

“The political declaration does not create a link between a future agreement on fisheries, including access to waters, and any agreement on trade in fisheries products,” concludes the UK government document.

Commenting on the declaration, SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “The declaration gives the UK the power to assert its position as an independent coastal state with practical sovereignty over our waters and natural resources.

“However, we know that several EU nations will not give up their attempts to link access with trade, in order to retain absolute rights to fish around our coastline.

“So we will continue to seek assurances from the UK government that it will remain steadfast. We will not rest until the future arrangements are signed, sealed and delivered, and we secure this critical control over access to our waters, and who catches what stocks, where and when.”


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