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Friday, 5 September 2014

Letter to Bertie S Archer at DEFRA from NUTFA who represent the Under 10m vessels in the UK

To: Bertie Archer – DEFRA Via e mail 
Date: 28th July 2014 
Reference: FQA proposals for Under Tens 

Dear Bertie, 

Many thanks for your e mail of the 23rd July regarding proposals for under ten FQA’s.

I would stress on a positive note that we are in advanced discussions with some of your colleagues regarding what is in our view the most sensible option to deal with the many and serious aspects of quota and under tens for the future, the creation of a dedicated inshore producer organisation type body. 

In response to your specific questions posed via e mail: 

- Do you think this proposal will be attractive? No - Will this proposal solve, or cause, any problems for you/your organisation/your members? It will cause significant problems for a great many under tens, as well as severe financial difficulties. 

- Do you think the principles are sound and reasonable? No 

- What other considerations/factors should be reflected in the methodology? A review of the outcome of previous consultations especially that of 2011 conducted jointly by NUTFA / DEFRA on this subject [and described by one senior DEFRA officer as ‘the most effective consultation we’ve ever undertaken’.]

General Comments; It is evident that you have circulated your thinking widely as I have had a number of calls from concerned individuals on this subject. Many of them commented that the issue of allocating FQA’s based on an individual track record had been extensively discussed during the aforementioned 2011 consultation on Domestic Reform and had been almost universally rejected for a range of reasons that should not require repeating.[this is very much the polite version of many comments received that were significantly more blunt].

We are particularly concerned that you refer to the outcome of the DEFRA Community Quota Group project as illustrating a range of benefits for licence holders moving out of the U10m fleet pool. We would be interested to know how you have arrived at this view in light of the fact that history and experience suggests otherwise.

In brief, said history was that the MMO advertised the possibility for under tens to join together in community quota groups and invited fishermen to apply. Despite serious reservations, NUTFA recommended that groups of under tens should in fact apply, if only to gain a better understanding of what was on offer. Out of the numerous groups that registered an initial interest, the MMO, by their own admission, chose only the 6 groups who held what they considered to be potentially viable amounts of quota, based on MMO figures and the individual track records of group members. When the groups were provided with what that amount of quota amounted to for each group, the offer was rejected by all but one set of fishers, the Ramsgate group. The remaining groups considered that what was on offer, based on individual track records, was less than was available within the Pool and certainly insufficiento maintain a living without having to resort to leasing or going broke.

So despite spending something over £200,000 on the initiative, including employing two Community Group managers that didn’t actually have a quota group to manage, the project ended up with about 14 fishermen in the Ramsgate area making up one group at the outset.

Since the inception of this one and only group, numbers have dwindled to only three fishers at present. It is widely recognised that the benefit of fishing from Ramsgate is that one operates on the border between areas IVc and VIId, effectively giving those fishers two bites at the quota cherry and consequently twice as much monthly quota, and therefore track record as most other fishermen in the under ten sector. So even with this undoubted benefit, the ostensibly successful Ramsgate pilot has in fact not provided the long term benefits originally supposed. 

This outcome does underline most clearly the fact that it is entirely iniquitous and unfair to attempt to impose an allocation of quota based on individual track records when those track records have been based on a false premise, that the other sector of the fleet has had a vast amount of funding to reduce capacity [that has in fact had dire and hopefully unintended consequences for the way that quota “ownership” is considered – that resulted in DEFRA ending up in the High Court facing a Judicial Review] and that we are now expected to accept widespread bankruptcy for under tens on the basis that DEFRA keep trying to persuade the world that the community quota group debacle was somehow a success that should therefore lead to the provision of individual FQA’s to the entire under ten metre fleet..

Just one of the many aspects that came from the previous consultation was the fact that officials clearly didn’t recognise or understand that until the suggestion of an under ten track record was raised, operators had never paid any attention to the notion of a personal track record as we worked from a national collective Pool. At the same time, DEFRA had also underestimated the movement of boats in our sector. Unlike large vessels that tend to stay in the same ownership for long periods, our sector fishermen tend to upgrade and downgrade their boats more often. This led to many fishermen inadvertently and unknowingly selling of both their boat and importantly their track record.

In the event that the proposals for individual track records had gone ahead at that time, it would have resulted in any number of long term and bona fide fishermen being unable to continue to fish in the same pattern as they had done for many years and with no ability to consider alternatives. During the consultation, where we visited a large number of English ports and were accompanied by your colleagues, there was considerable and understandable fear created by the proposals in this regard. As just one example, a fisherman in North Shields explained that he had been fishing since leaving school, had built up a reasonable business but due to getting older had decided the previous year to move to a smaller vessel. He had sold his boat in good faith, not realising, and why should he have, that he had also sold away his track record. In the event that individual allocations had been forthcoming, he would have had no track record, a worthless boat and a shed full of gear that he couldn’t use and with no ability to change methods or area.

Your colleagues did their best to suggest that there would be an effective appeals procedure but no one was convinced in that respect. I will not labour this and the many other points of concern that came out of the consultation, you can of course read them for yourself. I would however note the issues of the forthcoming landings obligation and the implications of that for the under ten metre fleet and equally importantly, the requirement on Government with respect to Article 17 of the reformed CFP. These are certainly subjects for face to face discussions and entirely relevant to this subject. Underlying all this is the unequivocal fact that the initial allocation of quota to the under ten fleet was and remains hopelessly flawed and whilst we understand the predicament that this now puts DEFRA in, it is no reason to maintain the inequity. Article 17 provides the ideal and legally required opportunity for a review of the situation. At the same time and as mentioned at the outset, NUTFA’s proposals for an English Under Ten PO are well advanced. We have a meeting scheduled with some of your colleagues early in September and on that basis, it may be advantageous to all of us to meet before that date to discuss the implications of your proposals.

Very much in brief, some other aspects of the proposals in need of consideration and discussion are, in no particular order:

• The falsity of attempting to equate ‘ownership’ with compliance. There is precious little evidence in support of this presumption and ample evidence against it. 
• The currently rapid backing away in many parts of the USA and Canada amongst other places from the catch shares scenario. Originally touted as the way forward, now recognised as undermining fishing communities and consolidating quota into few and powerful hands at the expense of local fishers 
• The potential loss of vital flexibility in terms of access to the resource for smaller scale fishers unable to simply steam away to pastures new
• The fact that many under ten operators have been forced out of quota species fishing due to massive reductions in both stocks and subsequently quotas, neither of which were their fault yet they continue to suffer the consequences 
• The example of the use of cheaper foreign crews on larger vessels as a direct result of the increase in the coast of leasing or purchase of FQA’s 
• Compensation issues around the forced reduction in the value of fishing licences [deemed under extensive Case Law to be possessions] 
• DEFRA’s consideration of the content and aspirations within the current Scottish Government consultation on the future of quota access 
• And last but not least, the potential impact on new entrants to the industry.

We look forward to receiving suggested dates to meet with you in this regard and hope that the information above will assist you in more clearly understanding our concerns on behalf of the under ten metre fleet with regard to the proposals.

If you require any further clarification or information in advance of a meeting then please feel free to get in touch, 

With best regards, NUTFA

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