Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Negotiating a course for MFV UK in the North Atlantic of tomorrow.

There is an old Chinese saying that goes something like this;

If you have both eyes on the past, you are blind to the future,
If you have both eyes on the future, you are blind to the past

This article is a factual account of how the business of fishing has been carried out in the North Atlantic since the end of the Second World War up to 1973 when the UK joined the EU and beyond.

It has been written in response to the emotional rhetoric championed by the phrase 'take back control' so often heard in the run up to the referendum and since about the fishing industry and what it means for the future - all of which should be seen in a historical context - especially for what happened between 1945 and 1973.

In the beginning:

Six years of war had decimated the fishing capability of all the countries who fished in the North Atlantic but also allowed fish stocks to increase.

England had the biggest fishing fleet in the world and fished to within a few miles of the Icelandic coastline for mainly cod.

The first 'fishing limits' agreed anywhere in the Atlantic came about as a result of Norway wanting to create a four mile limit in the 1930s to keep British vessels out and once again when Iceland introduced its own limits - initially to 12 miles in the 1950s and again, to keep British vessels out, ultimately to 200.

Fishing history post-war to 1973

In the UK, huge subsidies were given to the distant water fleet (approx £250 million). The main goals of these subsidies were to change from steam to diesel, from side trawling to stern trawling and then to modernize the fleet (freezers) and convert what was the Icelandic fleet into a domestic fleet.

In France at the same time, it was the same, with five-years plans. Many fishermen had seen their fishing boats and capital destroyed by WWII. Huge development support was given in 1960 with a special plan to fishermen to modernize and especially develop the, 'one owner on one boat' model, meaning precisely the Artisanal scheme for the 16 to 20m fleet (which actually was a modernization of the "Malamok" fleet). The second wave was given in 1980, (after the reference period which counted for the quota stability rule, meaning not stolen fish but using the potential of quotas based on the history in the calculation of stability share). Credit Maritime really started to work with fishermen in 1960, when its main objective was to implement the 'one-boat-owner' scheme.

In Spain, the big year of financial support for modernisation also started in 1960 with a special Franco-fishery development and modernization plan.

More or less, each of these three countries gave the same amount of money between 1945 and 1973 to their fishing industries. Whatever people may say, these three fishing industries were very similar by the pre-1973 fishing industries and the markets they addressed. What was different is what they did with the same potential after, based on national choices - not on European choices.

In short

All these three development plans were fueled by fish stock recovery during war and good fishing yields. So, the great number of fishing boats and fishermen everybody dreams about were, in fact, a medium term situation, as a result of overfishing and overcapacity. From manpower dominating against a capital scheme it turned into a capital dominating over a manpower scheme, which also save many fishermen backs (literally) and make them live now over 75 years old thanks to it through decreasing hard manual work.

Were these subsidies bad? No, subsidies were a collective investment from a national perspective and were re-imbursed by taxes, employment and a fair-price-food for the Nation. What was bad was the race for fish between fishing nations and the non management of overall fishing capacities by those nations.

Crucial point of information regarding the 200 mile limit ("our waters")

From this point of view, to say "take control BACK of our fish" from a UK perspective in the Western seas is purely false. They were not "UK fish", they were not "UK fishing grounds", they were not UK waters and nobody controlled anything before 1976 - that only happened when the  the European Fishing Zone was created at a time when the UK and France pushed away Spain and effectively stole half of Spanish precedence to fish. From the beginning that was a shared resource and shared responsibilities on shared fishing grounds, when EEZ was not settled.

Is the the blue Europe Common Fishery policy a failure? Yes and No.

What is a success is the ability to set up a management BETWEEN countries for Atlantic Channel and North Sea and stop the race for fish. What is a success is the huge decrease of fishing pressure in these areas. We complain about the decrease of the amount of fishermen and fishing boats. They were artificially high numbers. And it took two generations of fishermen to succeed in overcoming overcapacity. The reality is from a social perspective, maybe we need to wait till these two generations (started in the first 1960s) go to retire!

What is a failure is the ability not to manage other marine areas yet.

But, the maybe the biggest failure was in creating fair political rules for sharing giving economic potential (ie quotas shares) WITHIN these countries. ( "within the countries" means "within their sovereignty").

Managing a fishing stock has two components: 

Managing the fishing pressure and telling to who you give the economic sustainable potential resulting from a sustainable management; 

More precisely Scientific management combined with Political management (and not Economical management). Nobody wanted to answer the second part of the management system. Some neo-liberal politicians and economists thought they will answer to the second part by using the Market issues. It is the old confusion between Economical and Political, that the market could rule humanity instead of political. Some economists thought they could substitute themselves for politicians. In fact the market tools, meaning Individual Tradeable quotas (UK FQAs for example) have created unfairness, and emphasized scarcity of quotas in a time when scarcity of quota was already affecting everybody because of management rules. It has created the 30% of administrative discarding surplus of the UK fleet which led discarding in the North sea to the amount of 50% (instead of 20-25 % like everywhere else in bottom trawl fisheries)

Coming back to the supposed loophole in the UK boats registry which enables "the steal of UK quotas by foreigners". 

In 1980 Spanish investors entered the UK registry. Then, in 1989, the UK reformed the registry (turning it from a commercial boats registry into a fishing boat registry for overcapacity reasons). Was the UK was a victim of the weakness of their old administrative registry in 1980 as has been said? If UK was a victim, how would you explain that all these Spanish-owned UK-flagged fishing boats have a place into the UK POs, unless the UK POs tried to attack them? Could they enter like this? If Spanish boats entered in the UK system, it is because the doors were wide open, and you will remark that they all entered in the POs which were hosting Icelandic fleets (Fleetwood, etc.). UK fishing industry let them entered because they need their precedence to reconvert the Icelandic UK fishing fleets which were sent back home with the cod wars. And when in 1989, the UK wanted to send the Spanish back home, it was after the negotiation of the quota stability rules. To be more explicit, the UK would have kept the Spanish fishing rights and sent their real owners back home, meaning a theft. The Factortame court case made it impossible in 1998 (the expulsion of the Spanish), and in fact showed that you could have some movement of capital between EU countries. Such movements of capital were not always in favour of the UK fishing industry which benefited also from the settlement in Scotland of foreigners fish buyers which made powerful the fish buying capacities in Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen. The Factortame case opened the doors for the second time, at which time FQAs were set up. Some UK POs sold their quotas to Dutch, because they were allowed to do so thanks to FQA.

FQAs, fishing rights buying and selling, economic war, speculations, higher levels of discard, had nothing to do with Europe. This was purely the result of internal UK decisions and UK sovereignty. The UK is not the only one to pay the price of wrong internal decisions (France and Spain too), but, as a result, it means each still has some significant sovereignty, and to be sovereign means that mistakes can be made, but also it means you can decide to correct them without finding "villains" elsewhere and blaming them.

Fishermen should not forget their history. When they have constraints on catch levels, fishing history is then full of economic wars, and the strongest danger for fishermen is themselves. This makes no difference between Spanish, French or UK fisherman. They have the same history and they come from the same pot. Normally, they should be brothers at sea.


It may be helpful to have the French term 'anteriorities' in the context of the article defined as 'fishing priority' or 'fishing rights'

anteriorities : The share of the overall TAC for each country is now fixed into the relative stability by allocation decided in 1983. This allocation was calculated according to the catches made between 1973 and 1978 (the so-called "anteriorities" in French). At that time the British were fishing in Iceland, their fleet did not fish in Western Seas. As a result, they needed more anteriorities in UK waters for the returning boats (another counter argument against the "our (UK) traditional waters"). By accepting the Spanish under the UK-Flag before 1983, they automatically absorbed the Spanish anteriorities into the UK share of the relative stability. In 1980, the Spanish were not certain to get their full fishing rights back when they would enter EU. And history is there, in 1989, when they entered, they did not received them. Spain is the only country for which the stability is not calculated upon the basis of 1973-1978 activity, but according to what was decided after 1976, when the current EU (UK and France) already imposed restriction of fishing to Spain. Normally, following the 1973-1978 rule, Spain should get 66% of the TAC of Hake in Western Seas. Now they only have 33%. because of this. So when Spanish entered the UK registry, they partly saved their fishing rights (as they became UK), and UK (as a nation) gained more quotas thanks to them. The plan was to make the quotas British, which was accomplished, and then get rid of the Spanish afterwards (1989 attempt). But the UK Govermnent lost Factortame case, and the Spanish stayed in the UK, bought some other UK boats and companies and then some became even more integrated into the British economy.

This piece was largely penned by Yan Giron who, after 20 years of service to the fishing industry in the North Atlantic has decided to move into the darker, possibly more dangerous waters of maritime security!