Thursday, 10 January 2019


Established to provide the small-scale fishing sector with a dedicated voice of its own at European level, LIFE (Low Impact Fishers of Europe) came into being in 2012 on the eve of the new CFP, but took a few years to make its presence felt.
‘LIFE started to gather some real momentum in 2015,’ said Brian O’Riordan, LIFE’s former Deputy Director, now appointed Executive Secretary to guide the organisation as it goes through some fundamental restructuring.
LIFE represents small-scale fishing, mainly under 12 metre boats, fishing with low-impact gear.

‘In 2015 LIFE was awarded a generous start-up grant that made it possible to open an office in Brussels, employ staff, and get into action. First came Jerry Percy, recruited as Executive Director to set up and steer the new organisation. He was followed by two staff in Brussels to liaise with the EU institutions, and Marta CavallĂ© as Mediterranean Coordinator based in Barcelona to build up a presence in the Mediterranean region. I came on board in 2015,’ he said, adding that growth over the last three years has been rapid as LIFE now has affiliation with 31 organisations in 16 EU member states from the Baltic to the Black Sea, altogether representing more than 10,000 small scale fishermen.

‘These are people generally working from vessels under 12 metres, spend less than 24 hours at sea, committed to working with low-impact fishing gears and selling most of their catches fresh and as near as possible direct to the consumer,’ he said, skirting the thorny issue of defining what is or isn’t a small-scale low-impact fishing operation.

‘The primary aim has always been to promote a differentiated approach for the management of small-scale fisheries. Since the first CFP emerged in 1983, the default option has been for small-scale fishing to be left to the member states through the 12 mile zone derogation. European fisheries policy has from the outset been skewed towards larger-scale fisheries. It’s clearly not good enough. We need a differentiated approach for small-scale fishing and a set of policies and regulations that realises that. Small-scale fishing needs a voice. But change happens slowly and we need to rectify 35-plus years of alienation. There’s a lot of catch-up needed,’ he said.

Jerry Percy has stepped down as LIFE’s director and takes up a role as part-time policy advisor. 
‘What has become abundantly clear during LIFE’s development phase is the absolutely vital need for a specific and dedicated voice for the small-scale fleet across Europe. This need has been acknowledged and supported by both past and current DG MARE Commissioners and their staff, and at LIFE we are appreciative of this.’

From Heroic to Institutional

With LIFE now firmly established, he described the challenges are to take it from an initial heroic mode, with fishing people finding they have a voice and clamouring for representation, to a more institutionalised existence and the daily business of dealing with the bodies that govern fisheries across Europe.

This is going from the euphoria of arrival to the daily grind of monitoring legislation, including checking on the new EMFF post-2020 proposal, and engaging with the process to revise the Control Regulation. These are expected to take a few years of negotiations before adoption. Meanwhile, multi-annual plans are being adopted and implemented at sea-basin level and affecting small-scale fisheries, as reflected in the workings of the Advisory Councils (ACs), where LIFE is also active.

Now LIFE is set for another change as it shifts from its roots in Britain and to become a Belgian-based organisation, on the door step of the European bodies where policy is shaped. Jerry Percy steps down as LIFE’s Executive Director to take up a part-time role as Senior Advisor as he focusses his attention on the unfolding drama that is Brexit and the UK’s new Fisheries Bill. Meanwhile Brian O’Riordan’s role as Deputy has evolved into the new post of Executive Secretary, which is where the buck now stops.

Small-scale fisheries are at the heart of numerous coastal communities:
‘It’s a change, and it’s a logical step to take – and it makes sense in the light of Brexit now that it’s anybody’s guess what’s going to happen,’ he said.
‘That doesn’t mean we’re cutting ties with British fishermen, and there’s a lot going on in the UK with the under-10 fleet and getting the Coastal PO established – and we remain committed to the concerns of the UK small vessel fleet, and depending on the Brexit outcome, LIFE’s UK members will continue to receive our support under an associate membership arrangement.’