Thursday, 29 November 2018

Box after box of bass dumped back dead.

In a week when the Lords Select Committee for Environmental and Rural affairs held their enquiry into the Landing obligation - a video of a 30+ box haul of bass was posted on social media.

This is not the first time a video showing a large haul of bass caught accidentally has appeared - an identical French video was posted last year. This skipper posted the video in good faith to highlight the biggest issue fishermen have with our rigid quota system namely, if there is no quota left, or an outright ban, or the boat has already caught its own quota then the fish must be returned - dead or alive - back to the sea.

Trying to avoid this situation has to take into account a number of key elements:

Bass and other stocks are protected by catch limits - the MSY (Maximum Sustainable Yield).
All EU boats have to be regulated - somehow - to protect the livelihoods of all fishermen.
Fishing gear cannot be modified to guarantee that the wrong fish won't be caught.
Boats can catch bass accidentally because fish don't understand they are not to be caught.
Some fishermen (a very small minority) fish illegally.

The video received over 500 comments in the space of a few hours. Sadly most of them fell into three categories - either they were totally ignorant of the facts or offensive (or both) or illegal in their intent. Either way, the comments reflect a lack of understanding of a complex situation where it would seem easy to take some sort of unilateral action to solve a complex problem.

Here is a sample - judge for yourself:

There was a single comment that attempted to throw an objective view into the 'discussion'.

"The Quotas System was imposed on the UK when we joined the Common Market/ EU and is Totally the cause of the EU/Common Market. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the mechanism and set of rules through which European fishing fleets and fish stocks are managed. It began in 1970 and was most recently reformed in 2014. All member states are members, but only 23 of the EU 28 are coastal states. It gives all European fishing fleets Equal Access to EU waters to create fair competition. It aims to ensure that European fishing is sustainable, however this policy has been proven to be damaging both to the environment and to fish stocks as millions of tonnes of fish have been returned to the sea dead, fishermen from all countries have been unable to accurately catch their target quoted species and landing the wrong species would incur severe fines. Prior to the UK being a member of the Common Market/EU (CFP) the UK like Iceland had 12 miles of exclusive Sovereign Waters, this was extended by Iceland to 100 miles and backed by their Naval Military and the Icelandic Government (Cod Wars 1970's). Presently 65% of British/UK Quotas are now under Licence to European Boats, one of these companies owns the Licence for 24% of our Quota. Successive British Governments have had absolutely No Power to change the system which has Destroyed the British Fishing Industry"...

You could add to this by including the facts that Iceland first introduced a 6 then 12 mile limit in order to stop British fishing vessels from Hull and Grimsby from fishing 'up to their beaches' - get the irony? Our 200 mile limit (or what Mr Gove constantly refers to as, 'our sovereign waters' and promises to take back control of - was first introduced in 1976 by the EU - which we were able to do so as we were now EU members.

But, and this is the big one. We are also signed up to the UN Law of the Sea Convention which allows countries to establish an Exclusive Economic Zone of up to 200 nautical miles from their coast. If the UK were to leave the EU we could have control of all fish which were within this zone. But, the same laws also require countries to ensure that fish stocks are conserved and that the allowable catch is specified and where necessary shared with other countries. (Full article here)

A key element of UNCLOS is this paragraph which has obvious connotations with regard to those immediate adjacent states like France, Belgium, Holland, Norway and Ireland:

Archipelagic waters: 
The convention set the definition of Archipelagic States in Part IV, which also defines how the state can draw its territorial borders. A baseline is drawn between the outermost points of the outermost islands, subject to these points being sufficiently close to one another. All waters inside this baseline are designated Archipelagic Waters. The state has sovereignty over these waters (like internal waters), but subject to existing rights including traditional fishing rights of immediately adjacent states.[9] Foreign vessels have right of innocent passage through archipelagic waters (like territorial waters).
And it doesn't stop there. Overall quotas - the thorn in the side of every fleet are not set by the EU:

Total allowable catches (TACs) or fishing opportunities, are catch limits (expressed in tonnes or numbers) that are set for most commercial fish stocks. The Commission prepares the proposals, based on scientific advice on the stock status from advisory bodies such as ICES and STECF. Some multi-annual plans contain rules for the setting of the TACs. 
TACs are set annually for most stocks (every two years for deep-sea stocks) by the Council of fisheries ministers. For stocks that are shared and jointly managed with non-EU countries, the TACs are agreed with those (groups of) non-EU countries. 
TACs are shared between EU countries in the form of national quotas (set by Defra/MMO). For each stock a different allocation percentage per EU country is applied for the sharing out of the quotas. This fixed percentage is known as the relative stability key. EU countries can exchange quotas with other EU countries. 
EU countries have to use transparent and objective criteria when they distribute the national quota among their fishermen. They are responsible for ensuring that the quotas are not overfished. When all the available quota of a species is fished, the EU country has to close the fishery.

Differentiating between regional, national and EU states was discussed at the Landing Obligation enquiry yesterday.