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Thursday 13 February 2020

Row over ‘greedy’ fishermen claim

FISHERMEN demanded an apology from Fisheries Minister George Eustice yesterday over an official document which described some small-scale operators as “greedy” and “rule beaters”.

The document was published last year in support of an unpopular new app which under 10-metre boat fishermen are being forced to use.

The fishing industry’s “Brexit bonus” could come too late for some smallscale fishermen, who fear they will be driven out of business by new rules imposed by the British government. Skippers of under 10-metre boats, which account for 80% of all UK vessels, are being forced to use a new app to estimate the weight of their catch.

A Marine Management Organisation document published last year said the new app was aimed at controlling some 500 fishermen described as “rule beaters who consistently seek to evade regulation” and “fishing for greed, not need”.

Fishing industry leaders are furious at the language used in the document, which was abruptly changed yesterday after questions from the

Western Morning News.

David Pessell, of Plymouth Trawler Agents, called on Fisheries Minister George Eustice to apologise for the language of his officials.

Jerry Percy, director of the New Under-10 Fishing Boats Association, said the MMO’s language was “utterly disgusting. For the MMO to set one fisher against another is appalling. It’s a very poor show.”

Speaking yesterday in a Westminster Hall debate Mr Eustice, the MP for Camborne and Redruth, defended the app, which he said would provide more reliable catch data.

Luke Pollard, the shadow Environment Secretary, has written to Theresa Villiers, the Environment Secretary, calling for an investigation and an apology.

THOUSANDS of small-scale fishermen fear they could be driven out of business before the UK fleet can enjoy its much-heralded “Brexit bonus”.

Skippers of more than 2,200 under 10 metre boats, which account for 80% of all UK vessels, are being forced to use a new app to estimate the weight of their catch. If they are out by more than 10% they risk a fine of up to £100,000.

And fishing industry leaders are furious at allegations that some those fishermen are “fishing for greed, not need”.

Around 500 under 10 metre boats, described by the Marine Management Organisation as “rule beaters who consistently seek to evade regulation”, are thought to be the main target of the new app.

In a document published last year, the MMO said some of the 500 vessels “choose to be under 10m vessel owners in order to avoid recording catch and will often chop off the front of their vessel to fit that vessel length. They are often unpopular with the rest of the fishing community (the term ‘fish for greed not for need’ is used nationwide).”

Others were part-timers with less sophisticated vessels, less active or sometimes inactive. Such vessels “can be used by fraudulent fishers to shelter ‘black fish,’ fish caught beyond a vessel’s quota”, the MMO said.

However, the MMO abruptly modified the document yesterday after questions from the WMN.

David Pessell of Plymouth Trawler Agents demanded an apology from George Eustice, the Fisheries Minister and Camborne and Redruth Conservative MP.

“It shows the contempt in which they hold the industry, even though publicly they say they are keen to work with us.”

He added: “They are demanding all this because they are after one or two fishermen who might by-pass the regular landing ports. I think that’s extremely rare.

Mr Pessell said older fishermen were considering tying up their vessels for good. “We know the MMO was told before they started this whole exercise that, for at least some, the new app could be the final straw.”

Jerry Percy, director of the New Under-10 Fishing Boats Association, said the MMO’s language was “utterly disgusting. For the MMO to set one fisher against another is appall

This is not an EU decision, this is a UK decision. You couldn’t make it up LUKE POLLARD

ing. We are all here to ensure that we have a sustainable fleet. They are dredging up any contentious issue they can to try to divide the fleet.”

The MMO did not address our questions about the anger of fishermen who saw the original document, and instead referred us to their official policy document on the catch app.

The app replaces a system where under 10m fishers landed their catch for sale, and it was the duty of the buying organisation to weigh, record and report the landing.

“It seems to gold plate existing legislation. They should have spoken to the likes of me. Instead they have spent £1.8 million developing this catch app,” Mr Percy said.

He said the MMO already got accurate catch data from the buyers. “It’s already the most dangerous job in the world. And they won’t be able to use the data because it’s an estimate.”

Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard – who has previously called for the Catch App to be scrapped – accused ministers of introducing more stringent red tape than the EU ever had.

“At the very moment when we have left the EU and its real or imagined burdens, the government is implementing the biggest piece of red tape seen by the industry,” he said. “This is not an EU decision, this is a UK decision. You couldn’t make it up.”

Tom McCormack, chief executive of the MMO, said: “Fishermen who are recording catches to the best of their ability have no need to worry.

“If and when there is ever a need to consider enforcement or prosecution actions – for example, someone persistently misreporting or not recording at all – that decision would be taken on a wide range of evidence.”

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), said he supported the push towards securing better information about catches so that quota could be handed out more fairly to smaller vessels post2020. He said he was willing to accept the MMO’s reassurances.

Speaking yesterday in a Westminster Hall debate, Fisheries minister George Eustice defended the app’s implementation.

“If we want to move to a more sophisticated way of managing the inshore fleet – maybe to give them quotas that run for several months, rather than just one month at a time, or to experiment with effort-based regimes – it is important that we have reliable data on catch.”

Studies by Cefas, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, have shown that there is a significant mismatch between what is recorded through sales notes and what is being caught and observed on vessels, Mr Eustice said. “We need to improve the quality of the data that we have.”

He added: “Our approach was designed at the request of the industry to make the process simpler.” However, Mr Percy said that he was not consulted.

Sheryll Murray, the Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, who led the debate, said: “It is essential that smaller UK vessels receive their fair share of the quota.

“They should be allowed to fish regardless of quota for a number of days a year, provided that they have enough days to ensure that their annual fishing pattern can continue throughout the whole year.

“I fully understand the intention of the new app.”

St Ives Conservative Derek Thomas told the debate, that fisheries had to be kept separate in trade negotiations with the EU.

“We hear from a few individual member states that they will exercise a veto, and so on; but not many of the 27 are that concerned about our waters. We should hold our position and not give in to any sort of nonsense from people in, say, France.”

Totnes Conservative Anthony Mangnall said: “In Salcombe and Dartmouth, we have a shellfish industry that is booming, which is looking at exports both within the European Union and further afield, and I hope to be able to support that.”

Western Morning News13 Feb 2020KEITH ROSSITER keith.rossiter@reachplc.com