Sunday, 31 December 2017

That was the year that was!

If all the sentences uttered or written about 2017 were analysed then almost certainly those with the words 'fishing' and 'take back control' would probably be number one!

Fishing became one of the key issues debated during the run-up to the referendum and has remained a prominent feature of debate ever since. Minister for the Environment and ultimately the boss of Defra and the MMO, Michael Gove has made the phrase 'take back control' symbolise the aspirations of those who voted for Brexit and to signify the UK fishing industry's desire to administer 'our' fish within 200 miles (or the median line) of its shore.

Ironically, many sectors of the industry are in better shape than they have been for years - new builds, up-to-date markets, increased stocks, growth in home consumption, new Asian export markets, lesser known species enjoying the 'TV celebrity chef effect', MSC Certification and a grudging acceptance by many NGOs that fishermen are operating sustainably within a less than equitable quota system within the CFP mean that the future bodes well. Though issues surrounding the recruitment of young fishermen, future skippers and boat owners trying to make their way from humble beginnings reflect changes in society in general - the same issues being shared by every EU state, not just the UK.

As yet, like much of the Brexit deal, there is precious little if any sign of the details by which our or our neighbouring fleets will operate.  Much is being made of the transition arrangements talked about so far where it would appear there will be no change - as we will be forced to operate under the existing CFP rules until such time as we have brokered a final deal.  Many 'Fishing for Leave' campaigners see this as a cop-out, fearful that some sort of new deal will be quota rather than effort based and are pressing for an immediate withdrawal. 

North of the border Scottish fishermen are mindful of the shared access with their Scandinavian cousins for many white fish species while the hugely successful pelagic sector has to contend with multilateral talks over mackerel, a fish that continues to defy national boundaries and seems to be moving ever northwards!

The Irish and Celtic Seas have an Irish contingency freshly buoyed by a huge increase in cod for 2018 but as continuing members of the EU the forthcoming talks between them and the UK should prove more than interesting given the huge problem sorting out just the shape of the physical border between the North and the South!

The Southern North sea and the Channel share many quota'd flatfish species with Dutch, Danish and Belgian boats while the South and South Western waters have huge contingents of boats from France, Spain, Dutch and Belgian visitors keen to maintain their traditional fishing grounds in 'our' waters!

The regional diversity of fishing and the prominence of the bigger vessels in the fleet enjoyed being the subject of much media attention (remember Greenpeace citing the Cornelius Vrolik having 24% of the entire UK fish (by weight) quota or the flotilla of boats that clashed in the Thames with Bob Geldorf) has not cut any ice with those fishermen - and they are by far and away the majority in number - who work in the Under 10m sector for whom the MMO's allocation of quotas has been less than equitable - in some areas forcing smaller boats, who, unlike their nomadic big brothers are unable to fish farther afield - to sell up and their inter-dependant processors to cease trading - all in small, coastal communities whose very identities are shaped by such businesses.

Whatever the nature of Brexit one thing is for sure, the fishing industry will have to live with the consequences of the majority decision to support withdrawal from the EU in order to 'take back control' and secure a better more equitable deal for all sectors of the industry. Let us hope this government does not repeat the history of the previous Conservative administration at the time we joined the EEC.

Closer to home, here in Newlyn there are yet more new boats set to join the fleet despite the impending implementation of the Landing Obligation (nil discards) which will undoubtedly have a major impact on the viability of some sectors unless a compromise within the existing regime is reached. On a much more positive note, a completely re-furbished fish market and the promise of a remote computer auction should see the port re-assert its place as the largest English fishing port again!

Last, but not least, must be a big shout out to the guys who make all this possible - first and foremost the skippers and crews who risk everything, as a matter of course, every time they sail, to all those ashore who see that the boats are well found and have the means to land their catches and a special thanks to all those chefs working in Cornwall and beyond championing fish on their menus - we need you as much as you need us!

Roll on 2018!