Tuesday, 16 October 2018

SFF & NFFO & FFL - The Brexit debate heats up!

The NFFO response to the Fisheries White Paper back in July 2018.

The Government has published its long-awaited White Paper on Fisheries. Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations outlines the Government’s vision for UK fisheries post-Brexit. Unsurprisingly, its headline objectives are those associated with the UK’s future as an independent coastal state outside the Common Fisheries Policy.

See the White Paper here

Priority is given to the pursuit of policies which promote sustainable exploitation of fish stocks. However, the Paper makes clear that the UK will control access over who is permitted to fish in UK waters and under what conditions. Rebalancing quota shares to more closely reflect the fisheries resources located in UK waters is also a top-listed priority.

The Government underlines its commitment to working cooperatively with those countries like Norway and the EU with which it shares fish stocks. However, the paper also makes plain that trade issues and fishing rights and management are separate issues, by international comparison and EU-third country precedent. This is important because the EU has signalled, in its negotiating guidelines, that it will seek to use an EU/UK free trade agreement as leverage to maintain the current asymmetric arrangements on access and fishing opportunities. The scale of those quota distortions, which work systematically to the EU’s advantage and the UK’s disadvantage, is spelt out graphically in an annex to the White Paper.


Overall, the Government has not been noticeably coherent or cohesive in its preparations for a negotiated Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. On fisheries however, its broad position is clear, cogent, and apparently uncontroversial - within the UK anyway. This White Paper will have required support across Whitehall, and it spells out what the UK wants and expects. This aligns quite closely with what the UK fishing industry wants and expects. The high attendance and level of interest at our recent NFFO lobby day in Parliament confirmed that there will also be very wide support across the parties for the broad approach outlined here.

Doubtless this unity reflects the widespread understanding in and beyond government that the entry terms in 1973 worked systematically and significantly to the detriment of the UK’s fishing interests - and have continued to do so over the intervening forty-five years. The UK’s departure from the EU gives us the long-awaited opportunity to address the distortions that arrived with the CFP.

The Federation has been working closely with Defra since the referendum and has submitted papers on all the policy main areas. It is encouraging, therefore, that our principal objectives are shared in the White Paper. These are:

1. The UK operating sustainable fisheries as an independent coastal state, with quota and access arrangements agreed in the context of annual fisheries agreements

2. Rebalancing quota shares to reflect the resources based in UK waters

3. Control over access to fish in UK waters

4. An adaptive management system tailored to the contours of our fleets

5. Unimpeded trade flows

The White Paper also reflects other industry priorities, including:

⦁ A flexible and adaptive national fisheries policy with the fishing industry closely involved in the design and implementation of policy. The frequency of unintended consequences of policy decisions and the need therefore to for a responsive management system post-CFP appears to be well understood

⦁ That safety considerations should be hard-wired into any new fisheries legislation has been taken on board

⦁ The need for a workable discard ban is emphasised

⦁ The removal of the artificial boundary between the under and over-10metre fleets is flagged

⦁ A measured and step-wise approach to trialling alternatives to quotas where this makes sense, is described

⦁ Producer Organisations will continue to deliver decentralised, tailored quota management in the ports

⦁ Throughout, there is an emphasis on a close partnership between the fishing industry and government

More Work Areas

However, below the headlines setting out the Government’s broad orientation, there remains much to discuss and work on. In particular:

⦁ How to operate a system of devolved responsibilities within an overall UK framework is underdeveloped in the White Paper. Discussions continue and is unlikely that arriving at a satisfactory agreement will be easy or straightforward, given the toxic politics involved.

⦁ Cost recovery before the institutional arrangements are in place to give the industry shared responsibility, as discussed in the White Paper, would be premature, unjustified and very controversial

⦁ Auctioning incoming quota is a new concept with some obvious disadvantages; it will need detailed scrutiny

⦁ The practicalities of a workable system of overage (permitting bycatches to be landed even though quotas are exhausted with a charge to disincentivise targeting) to address the problem of chokes under the landing obligation, will require close attention

⦁ Remote sensing undoubtedly has a future role to play in monitoring fishing activities: the question is how and where and how does it fit into a partnership approach based on trust and confidence?


On the big-ticket issues, the White Paper is clear and confident. To be sure, the EU27 will seek at every turn to blunt its application but in truth the EU only has one weapon in its armoury and that is the nuclear option of denying the UK a free trade deal unless the UK caves in on fisheries. That would hurt many businesses in the supply chain in the EU - at least as many as in the UK. Politically, such is the parliamentary arithmetic, that the UK government could not agree to a capitulation on fisheries and survive.

It is self-evident that the Government has much work to do on its own positions before the next rounds of negotiations. On fisheries, however, as the White Paper spells out, the big issues relating to jurisdiction, access and quota shares, are already settled by international law: the UK becomes an independent coastal state. Everything else flows from that.

Fishing for Leave however, have an entirely different perspective on Brexit claiming to represent the small-scale fishers who make up around 70% of the UK fleet.

If only so many knew the truth..

For two years Fishing for Leave have bit our lip for the sake of the wider cause of the industry and way of life we are fighting for.

However, after continued misrepresentations and protestations by the Scottish Fishermens Federation (SFF) and National Federation of Fishermens Organisations (NFFO) of their 'speaking for all the industry' we feel we can stay silent no more.

The tipping point is knowledge of discussions of agreements to stay mute on a transition deal, one that would prove disastrous for the majority of Britain's fishing, along with selling the industry a pup in exchange for maintaining the current system beneficial to a few.

The SFF and NFFO have become a corporate racket dominated by a few big quota holders and heavily influenced by EU owned but UK registered 'Flagships'

Rather than fight to replace the system that has ruined British fishing they continually pursued managed decline to a few. The consequence for so many fishermen and communities is heartbreakingly apparent to see.

After twenty years of supine retreat, when the chance to escape the CFP came they wouldn't back Brexit.

Hiding behind 'neutrality' after being ambivalent or hostile to British withdrawal since the 1990s - some heads are on record as having voted remain. Main stream and fishing media archives record all this.

They abandoned the industry they now purport to represent. It was left to the grassroots to initiate and fight under Fishing for Leave .

We alone were instrumental in making fishing one of the 'acid tests', from the Thames flotilla on whilst the NFFO and SFF hid at home.

Rather than come together following the vote, as FFL openly offered at meetings in Aberdeen and Peterhead, the SFF in particular resorted to attack FFL through proxies.

The two federations then did a volte face to control the Brexit dividend for a few and fend off what they saw as a threat by FFL banging the drum to replace a failed system (one with feathered nests for a few) with new British policy that would work for all from big to small.

As the Bible eludes beware wolf in sheep's clothing!

**FFLs repeated warnings that the NFFO and SFF are a cartel of big, mainly foreign interests, dominating the industry for a few to the detriment of the many they claim legitimacy from was vindicated by the Greenpeace Unearthed report.


FFL would caution against one element of the Greenpeace report. Not all big are bad, small are good. Some of the biggest companies and Producers Organisation (POs), such as Interfish and Northern Ireland Fish PO back both Brexit and a fair distribution for all - sadly many of their contemporaries who are in the SFF and NFFOs policy is all for one none for all.


SO, after two years! of avoiding actual detail it would be great to finally hear exactly how the SFF (and the NFFO) propose allocating their much vaunted simple phrase #seaofopportunity?

1) Will it be through equal shares of repatriated resources to ALL fishers and communities as FFL propose? Or through the disastrous FQA allocation system (which have become the stocks and share unit currency that has made a national resource a corporately traded commodity) driven consolidation to a few, crushed the family fishing and communities the federations virtue signal about seeing revived?

2) Pelagic resources are the main bulk of what Britain regains...do the SFF and NFFO agree with FFL that half should fairly go to the 25 large vessels in the specialist pelagic fleet and half to all other vessels and communities? So as to recreate opportunity of seasonal fisheries and provide an adrenaline hit to struggling vessels and communities?

Why does Mr Armstrong of the SFF continually peddle the lie publicly and in parliament that 40-100ft trawlers cannot pursue pelagic species as they happily manage in Norway and Ireland?

3) The discard ban addresses the discard symptom rather than the quota cause. It is acknowledged as an existential threat to the viability

'Choke species', when vessels have to tie up on exhausting their lowest quota to avoid discarding, will cripple all bar a few of the biggest quota holders.

Why did the SFF, after talks in Downing Street, roll over so easily to a transition where the EU will be free to enforce the 2019 discard ban, bankrupt all bar the biggest quota holders, and then claim the resources we would no longer have the fleet to catch using UNCLOS Article 62.2?

4) Given no credible solution has been found in 8 years to discards or choke species being the result of quotas, why do the SFF and NFFO resolutely want to maintain quotas and the unsolvable discarding that will ruin the majority and leave only a few big players?

5) Why do the SFF and NFFO continually seek to defile the unique, world leading hybrid quota/effort control system FFL have developed to achieve discard free, soak time at sea fisheries. One generating accurate science from all catches being landed, preserving and adopting FQAs and their investment, whilst providing all a limit of time at sea to survive.

If it is doomed to fail why not support a credible trial on 20 vessels to prove it is wrong or, if it works, have a credible alternative for everyone to survive....what's to lose?

6) Why does the SFF continually make representations to government to keep quotas, & worse to keep the FQA share system that drives consolidation to few big corporates? Why are continual governmental assurance also sought for allocating all repatriated resources through the disastrous FQA system too?

7) Is the resistance to not continuing with the same failed system by moving to new better management less to do with environmental and operational concerns and more to do with preserving a quota trough for some prominent members who have their trotters firmly in it?

8 ) How can the NFFO say it speaks for British fishermen, and does the NFFO not have a severe conflict of interests, given that the government FQA register and Companies house show that the majority, around 75%!, of the NFFO membership of POs and their FQAs (and therefore the financial clout) is controlled by EU owned but UK registered 'Flagships'?

9) How can the SFF purport to speak for Scotland's fishermen when many fishermen and associations from Orkney to the Western Isles to Lothian and Fife are not in the SFF; the founding Clyde Fishermen's Association quit due to problems addressed in the questions above; and many are hugely disgruntled at the corporate racket but persist only to obtain the necessity of guard work jobs?

10) Why will the SFF and NFFO not condemn quota renting and 'slipper skippers', who SeaFish statistics show are bleeding 50-60% of the profit for reinvestment from the industry as active vessels have to pay to fish? Do they agree with FFLs position that, slipper skippers should be banned; that entitlement to fish should only be on active vessels; and that the price of swapping entitlement should be capped at 4% of the gross realised for the fish caught by that entitlement?

Quotas have trashed the environment with mass discards and trapped the industry in perpetual data deficiency on actual catches.

Quotas and the now economically prohibitive and illiterate cost of rent and purchase of FQA entitlement units has crippled community and family fishing the federations say you represent and wish to protect.

It has culled recruitment of a next generation to realise a sea of opportunity by barring a career from deck to wheelhouse. All this and yet you both lobby to keep the same failed system reviled by so many fishermen you claim to represent ...why?

We suggest it is for the same reason - preserving the status quo on quota - that stopped the NFFO and SFF backing Brexit.

Until the above Ten questions are honestly answered there is a long gap between actual fishermen and the two federations who purport to represent them.

So the choice is; come together by decrying the failed systems of the past. Say repatriated fish will be distributed to all fairly. That slipper skippers and flagships will be banned and curtailed and that we trial a potentially world leading hybrid refined effort control system that would work and give a future for ALL

...OR will the SFF and NFFO continue trying to preserve a corporate racket of quotas, FQAs discards & slipper skippers for the benefit of a few?

One thing is certain, coastal constituencies will decide on MPs choice of what is listened to... MPs and government can listen to a bright future for all or keeping trotters in the trough for a few...?