The English South West fishing industry stands to lose over £2m-worth of fishing opportunities as a result of the UK-EU fishing agreement for 2023 on shared stocks, according to the Cornish FPO (CFPO).

The PO says there has also been ‘a massive blunder on spurdog’ following the agreement which was concluded just before Christmas (Fishing News, 5 January, ‘Mixed bag of large increases and cuts’).

Cornish fishermen have raised serious concerns over the results and the continuous loss of fishing opportunities in the South West. They say cuts of 451t in key stocks such as pollack, sole, plaice and haddock ‘will undoubtedly prove a challenge in what continue to be testing times since Brexit’.

The CFPO said that while the scientific advice that has a strong influence on the catch decisions has to be respected, huge swings in TACs will see a 77% reduction for plaice in the Bristol Channel, and a more than 20% reduction for sole in the English Channel.

“All of this makes no logical sense given that these are annual negotiations,” said CFPO chief executive Chris Ranford. “Surely there should be a focus on better managing our fish stocks to only need a maximum change of 20% either way?

“In other cases, such as pollack, commercial landings data have been down partly due to restricted access to the French markets, where traditionally, pre-Brexit, boats would have landed significant volumes.

“Limited overseas market opportunities have led to a reduction in catches, and as a result, our government applied a ‘use it or lose it’ scenario and cut the TAC by 20%, which is simply ridiculous. If stocks are not being caught, this shouldn’t be a driver for making reductions.”

Chris Ranford was also critical of what will be a late start to the spurdog fishery, which has reopened with a UK quota of 4,825t after a lengthy closure. “Although not the crux of high- value species, one of this year’s biggest blunders by the UK government is the failure to match the EU and open the spurdog fishery as of 1 January, 2023,” he said.

Speaking just before Christmas, he added: “Despite a number of CFPO member vessels being the only ones to work with the government on recording and reporting precious data on spurdog for the last decade, which has enhanced understanding of the stock and led to a positive shift in scientific evidence, it’s now apparent that the EU will begin fishing in just 10 days, whilst the UK will watch from the other side of the median line waiting for our government to go through a laborious red-tape process for the next six months.

“Of course, this doesn’t mean we won’t still be catching spurdog. It will remain part of the mixed fishery and an unavoidable bycatch, so we will simply have to carry on wastefully discarding perfectly good food whilst the French, Irish and Belgians take advantage of decades worth of hard graft and dedication from the Cornish fleet.”

He said that monkfish, hake and megrim have seen more positive outcomes from this year’s negotiations, with all three stocks receiving slight TAC increases.

In addition, an improvement in the scientific assessment of bass stocks has led to a very slight increase in fishing opportunities, which will come into effect later in the year as it is subject to a statutory instrument process.

“Whilst this year’s negotiations outcomes further compound what have been challenging times, it will not break the passion and dedication of Cornish fishermen, who will make the best of any situation and will find a way forward,” said Chris Ranford.

“However, the UK government must not be allowed to continue letting down fishing communities in the South West, and claim they are acting in the best interest of fishermen when that is clearly not true.

“Pre- and post-Brexit, warm words and empty promises have not been backed up by action and delivery for fishermen. The relationship between UK government, Defra and fishermen in the South West will continue to decline as political convenience and lack of understanding dominate decision-making.”

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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