Friday, 17 June 2016

For discussion - Who or what destroyed fishing jobs? - Will leaving the EU change things for the better?

One of the most common figures quoted by the Brexit campaign is the devastation wrought on the size of the UK fishing fleet and the number of fishermen directly as a result of being in the EU.

These are the latest fleet figures for countries fishing in 'our waters':

The reasons for the decline in the size of the major fleets that fish waters around the UK are not simply a result of the CFP and membership of the EU - the biggest loser since 2004 has been Norway - who is not in the EU.

Prior to 2000, the UK lost access to the cod fishing grounds off Iceland - a 12-mile sovereign limit was introduced in the late 60s as a result of the 'cod wars' for the fishing nations of the North Atlantic.

A number of internationally agreed regulations determined the rights of countries in the North Atlantic to fish. The most significant, which would still apply on exit is the 1996 Fisheries Convention and the 200-mile/median line limit which was introduced in 1976 when the UK joined the EU (EEC).

In 1950s, 60s and 70s France UK and Spain mainly constructed overcapacity, and as a result created more jobs at sea and ashore.

By the 1990s, French and Spanish fleets had grown hugely - partly thanks to subsidies that protected the price of fish and partly through the move from sidewinding to stern trawling initiated in the mid-1960s - also, the UK fleets, especially in Scotland rapidly modernised and grew in capacity.

The introduction of other technical measures - better gear, better gear handling, better electronics and most significantly, satellite navigation and the ever-expanding fleets became even more efficient. This progress and modernisation also reduced jobs at sea.

Despite environmental changes seeing the huge shoals of mackerel move ever northwards

the pelagic fleet became the most efficient and effective through the introduction of RSW tanks, electronic and fishing gear and deck technology and sat-comms.

FQAs: Responsibility for creation and distribution of FQAs via POs and is that of the UK's Fisheries Administration (FA), namely the MMO - not that of the EU. 

Increasingly, the ownership of FQAs is passing to ever bigger businesses (hence the 23% of the entire UK quota being held by one vessel)

Does Britain hold its existing share? The issues of quota distribution and allocation fall to the desks of the MMO in the UK charged with administering the TAC amongst the fleet in the UK, not that of the EU.

At the bottom end of the pile - where the greatest number of vessels and fishermen are, is the plight of the Under 10m inshore sector - whose problems result from the way FQAs are allocated - further compounded by the "don't use it lose it" rule whereby smaller vessels that can fish using many fishing methods may lose the right to fish with different gear and methods if they don't continue to do so.

A share of all vessel landings from 1994-1996 still determines FQA outcomes - managed nationally by the each country's FA.  This is where things get messy. For example, in 1994-6 there were almost zero landings of hake in the North Sea (Area IVa/b) and haddock was a rare as halibut teeth in the South Western Approaches (Area VIIe/h) - today there are considerable stocks for both but for which there is little quota in their respective areas - as a result, both species have now become 'choke species' since the introduction of the Landing Obligation (LO) or 'zero-discards' rule.

In time, like every other EU fishermen, UK fishermen found a balanced activity between their fishing capacity and the previous quotas capacity. So why do they and every single bottom fish fisherman want to exit EU ? Because they all now need more quota
 as a result of choked species and the landing obligation. The Landing Obligation is here, to make it feasible we have to negotiate.

Outside the EU:

We might not like the impact of Brussels - but where would the alternative lead us?

To fight battle outside the EU will be to engage with what is potentially an even more dangerous adversary - enter into the ring the Blue Lobby, funded largely by US oil dollars via charities like PEW and the Oak Foundation- (remember Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's FishFight? - the TV series received around £500,000 from PEW)

Now, even if most of the skippers have found a balance with the way quotas are organised at both European and national level, and start to take advantage of stocks recovery, everything has been spoiled because of "landing obligation" and "choked species", where the greatest (and almost unworkable) impact is for mixed fisheries under ITQs like FQA. To want to out of the system we would have at the same time get rid of FQAs; is that even possible?

One thing is for sure, we know what has to be changed is Landing Obligation and to find a way to manage choked species. To change that we must not add something else to the balance of the negotiations. And re-negotiating with Europe being out of Europe will not facilitate the negotiation about choked species.

Up to now, the part that the Blue Lobby will play in any move to exit the EU has barely if at all been mentioned in debate:

So, if we have to renegotiate at the same time these rights,

  • access to fishing grounds
  • access to the market
the first thing the EU will do, helped by UK/US greens, is to consider that you cannot touch overcapacity measures nor the landing obligation as they are cast in stone.

So what will we use to argue for a better share?

Do France and Spain have non-used quotas? No. France uses all its quota now, because of choke species and because the size of Spanish and Dutch-owned French-flagged vessels has increased by 50%.

The target was the landing obligation adaptation, that target is maybe lost forever. Not strategic.

The way forward or as Brexit would say, "Getting back control of our waters"

Below are some of the legal issues over access according to Charles Hattersley from Ashford's Marine Lawyers in Plymouth:

"The jurisdiction of the twelve mile limit would apply. This is well established Under the Law of the Sea Convention ("UNCLOS"). There have been a number of attempts to extend to 200 miles but for the purposes of exclusive fishing rights I am sure the twelve mile limit would be agreed."
"There would still be the need to negotiate annual agreements between the EU, Norway, Faroes and Iceland. Currently under the 1980 Fisheries Agreement Norway negotiates TAC's for shared stock and there is a zonal agreement between Denmark, Iceland and Norway in which the EU are involved. There is also various other agreements which set up TAC's for each year such as the Norway-Russian (1976) Fisheries Agreement and the 1980 Agreement between Iceland and the EU."
"All these agreements require detailed lengthy and tough negotiations and, inevitably involve quota allocations to different species of fish."
"Accordingly, there is no guarantee at all that the negotiations would put place the UK fishing industry in a better position than it is at the moment. What is, however, clear is that the negotiations would take a very considerable period of time. In the case of Greenland it thought that it would be able to negotiate all the fishing rights within two years; as I understand it it took at least ten years to get anywhere near the resolution that they required."

All this in an era of neoliberalism that is eating away at our freedom to be governed not by the people we democratically (by 66% of the population) elected but by huge multinational corporations whose very existence depends on a society increasingly forced into dependence on their businesses and their services - the escalation of privatising education, the NHS, our armed forces, our utilities and transport networks - and increasingly includes ownership of fishing rights being transferred from that of the traditional individual skipper/owner to a big business. You might not agree with the actions of NGOs like Greenpeace but it is they who made it known that 61% of all UK fishing rights is now owned by three companies - check the FQA register for yourself.

Plenty to think about before you vote on the 23rd!