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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Why conferences like the Gap2 Symposium are now so important for fishermen to attend or be involved.

The Symposium on Participatory Research and Co-management in Fisheries - just the very language makes this seem far removed from the very real world of fishermen and fishing - and yet this three day conference is of huge significance for an industry that relies all to heavily on third-party data collected, collated and processed for the large part anonymously on its behalf only to end up providing the means of the EU via the CFP and the quota system to effectively control the lives and livelihoods of every fisherman in the UK.

This conference is all about finding ways to involve fishermen and the catch data they have to be part of the science that determines THEIR quotas - and as such, there should be a strong contingent of representatives from all UK fishing communities. These meetings - like most events that affect fishermen - are not accessible simply because any fishing time lost at sea cannot be made up afterwards - and the practicalities of attending such a conference are out of the question except for a lucky few who are able to be released from their duties!

I think this is a really important meeting - one that fishermen and fishing organisations should be attending and contributing to in a big way - the guys are catching fish like cod in the North Sea in quantities that have not be seen for years - in the South West I was talking to a skipper last week who is dumping 3-4 stone of Dover soles virtually every haul - and they haul 7-8 times a day! The science that provides the data behind the quotas is way too slow at present to respond to the changes in fish stocks at present - if scientists were able to use catch data from the boats maybe this would be very different. As it is, huge quantities of fish are being dumped, dead, back to sea and will continue to do so even when the discards rules are introduced from next year. 


Our maritime universities should also be sending staff/students to take part so that we don't have a repeat of the report published earlier this year that was based on landed fish - giving an entirely skewed set of statistics to the overall picture - not helpful to anybody including the student who was probably unaware just how counter productive the research was in the context of the current situation.
Wouldn't it great if our wonderful internet and the technology of social media could help bring the conference agenda and those talking about the future of fishing directly to those that it ultimately affects most - fishermen like Ben Stoten who wrote in desperation to his local MMO office a few weeks ago.

The letter quoted below is born of desperation and frustration from a young fisherman directly affected - like hundreds of other small fishing businesses - by the current quota system - he would, for sure, love to attend the conference if only to stress to the scientists and other involved just how the lack of accurate data and lack of flexibility in the current system may all too easily cost him his way of life - for him, for the next generation, possibly for good.

The Newhaven fisherman sent the letter below to the MMO at Hastings.


Good morning,
My names Ben Stoten and I'm based up at Newhaven East Sussex.
I'm sure by now you have had tons of emails and calls regarding the current madness that is the under 10m fish allocation for the back end if this quarter but I'm going to add my two pence worth anyway.
I spent 9 years in the army prior to that I was a fisherman, sadly during my time in the army I was severely injured in Afghanistan losing both my limbs,how ever with full rehab I'm now fully mobile again using prosthetic legs and decided to go back to the job I know and love which is fishing. I currently own and operate with a crew a small quarter boat or punt as they are referred to. How ever I have made the commitment to my chosen career and indeed the fishing industry by purchasing a new build 10m Sutton cat at as you can imagine at some considerable expense, as your aware with the boat comes all the gear and moorings that go with it also.
However I find myself questioning the judgement to do this when I get emails on a weekly basis telling me I can now no longer fish for skate the remainder of the winter, then I get another telling me I can no longer catch plaice for the foreseeable future which is utter madness at a time when you can't move for plaice off Our shoreline at the minute and they are all thick prime plaice which by the time they re-open again will be skinny and almost see through and pointless fishing on.
Then to top it off completely or as some have said "twist the knife" our cod quota for the quarter has been slashed as well from 400kg to 200kg even less once you deduct the appropriate weight for head and guts. So how is a small boat supposed to go out at this time of year and catch just Dover sole with nothing else in the net??? And to earn a living off of that how much sole am I going to have to catch if I cannot subsidise it with other species??? If you know of a way then please tell because short of becoming a spear fisherman I can't be that selective in what I catch!
We also hear from various sources that the French have only used 28% of there skate quota to date, which is also considerable more that our own quota even though they fish in the "English channel"
When are we as an industry going to get the support we need and what is going to be done to make sure the fisherman can at least have a half sensible Christmas without having to worry about cuts left right and centre, as last year with all the storms and severe weather and gear damage it wasn't exactly tearing to say the least.

Look forward to a response all though I suspect it will be a copy and paste job but such is life.

A concerned fisherman
Ben Stoten

As yet, Through the Gaps is unaware of the response from the MMO to Ben - perhaps he can enlighten?