Tuesday, 7 July 2015

HFW gets the blame - but is this more a case of rushed legislation without due diligence and proper consultation with the very people who could gave an answer?

Westcountry celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is being blamed for the new rules thanks to his televised Fish Fight campaign, which targets discards.

At present fisherman have to throw back fish they don't have a quota to catch, and the Fish Fight campaign has been working against that. The new rules mean they won't be allowed to throw them back - or land them. But Hugh says he has always demanded that the new rules be implemented in a way that did not disadvantage fishermen.

Dave Bond, a fishermen for nearly 40 years and chairman of Looe Harbour Commission, said: “It will put the nail in the coffin of the industry and then hammer it down. “It is beyond ludicrous, it is obscene. They are putting us out of business.” Mr Bond, who is also chairman of the South West Handline Association, which represents smaller fishing boats, was critical of Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall role is starting the discard reform. “He should stick to his kitchen,” he said. “He has just made a feature for his TV programme while we are going out of business.”

The new landing obligation policy means that by 2019 it will be illegal to discard any fish species covered by EU quotas. This means fishermen will be neither able discard or land fish they don't have a quota to catch.

Paul Trebilcock, chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation and president of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation, said urgent discussions were ongoing with Defra and the EU commissioners. “There is a lot of frustration and disbelief with this,” he said. “People are saying the ‘mad men in Brussels can’t do this, can they?’” Mr Trebilcock said he remained hopeful that a deal could be struck as fishermen around in the EU were united in their protests against an “unenforceable policy”. He said that there remained a “real danger” that if it was not changed, scores of fishing vessels could be tied up in the harbour, prevented from going to sea because they risked breaking the law. “I hope it will not come to that,” he said. “But given the lunacy and madness that comes out of Brussels, we can’t really rule it out.”

Mr Trebilcock also reserved criticism for the Fish Fight campaign, dismissing the new EU discards policy as the “mess Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has left behind”. He said: “Chefs making fishing policy is like one of the local skippers going into his restaurant and telling him how to run a kitchen.” 

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall rejected suggestions he was to blame, pointing out that the Fish Fight campaign had simply focused support from fishing communities and the general public. He also insisted that he had always argued very strongly that the landing obligation should not disadvantage fishing communities, and “any suggestion that it might do so is very concerning”. “The Government must ensure that the new rules are implemented in a fair way that doesn’t leave independent fishermen out of pocket,” he added. “We’ve always said it can’t simply be slapped over the existing quota system. Defra needs to create flexibility in the system to help fishers’ trade quota to take pressure of key species at the local level.”

The chef said Defra has promised to do this, though the way new flexible quotas will be allocated is yet to be agreed, and claimed 300 million Euros from the EU would also help fishermen “change gear to fish more selectively and successfully within the new rules”. He added: “The new rules are being phased in gradually, and among other exemptions, there will be a percentage of accidental catches that can be legally discarded, and/or legally landed. “Ultimately the landing obligation must be about more than not wasting fish. It needs to play a part in making sure we have healthy seas, thriving fish stocks, and thriving coastal communities.”

Jim Portus, chief executive of the South West Fish Producers Organisation, said fishermen hate discards as it made a mockery of their hard work. But he said the new policy could decimate the industry as fishermen would be prevented from putting to sea. “It is inevitable fishermen will catch fish for which they have no quota. It may happen infrequently, but when it does it will be a failure of the law. “This is a bad law made by administrators in Brussels encouraged by celebrity chefs. As a piece of legislation, it is barmy.”

Defra recently launched an extensive consultation on the reforms and will publish the responses shortly.

Fisheries Minister George Eustice, who is MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, said the old policy had to be replaced. “If we want a profitable fishing industry in the future it’s essential we end the shameful practice of throwing perfectly good fish, dead, back into the sea. “The hard-fought Common Fisheries Policy reforms are a major step forward in achieving this and mean that not only will there be a ban on discarding fish, but also lots of new flexibilities in the way quotas work so fishermen can implement it effectively and land what they catch.” 

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