Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by South Western Fish Producer Organisation Limited (T8)

  Thank you for your kind invitation for us to submit a brief memorandum to the Committee, highlighting those issues which we believe to be of the greatest importance to the fishing industry at this time. Our submission follows the three focus points given in the terms of reference for the 1998-1999 inquiry.


  Since our submissions of October 1998 and April 1999 there have been some developments, especially in the relationship between industry and the scientific community. However, not all of those developments have been beneficial.

  For example, during the closure of a significant part of the Irish Sea in 2000, as part of the Cod recovery strategy, one of our members was involved in a scientific assessment of the cod by-catch whilst beam trawling. We are pleased to report that the research was conducted under the terms of Article 14 of regulation 894/97. However, despite clear evidence the by-catch of cod was extremely low, indeed almost insignificant, a new regulation was implemented, by the Council of Ministers, to take effect from January 2001. This requires the back of the net of a beam trawl to be fitted with a panel of 180mm mesh, 30 meshes in length. In the case of smaller, 221 Kw beam trawlers using beams of 4.5m in length, this panel of net extends a long way into the belly of the net. This results in rolling of the net, excessive chafing and loss of marketable fish of species other than cod. There is no scientific reason for this panel and there are no known benefits to the cod stocks. The motives for its introduction are a mystery!

  In contrast, recent work on the Hake recovery plan for western waters has at least recognised the practical difficulties associated with beam trawl design. As a result of proper and timely consultation a more sensible and workable solution has been incorporated in the regulations soon to come into force. It is still not clear, however, where the original idea for this panel of netting came from.

  What this example demonstrates is that consultation with the industry and with the scientific community by those who draft the regulations is not yet at all times what it should be. Sadly, once flawed regulations have become ratified their amendment is a laborious process. The industry suffers commercial losses without the prospect of compensation, the relationship between the industry and the regulators becomes strained and respect for the regulations themselves takes a nosedive.

  Although the industry has had more meetings with scientists during recent years than in the past, we are not convinced there has been a significant improvement in the lines of communication. For example, there is no sign yet of the inclusion of any economic analysis in the determination of TAC's and the presentation of information is much as it ever was. There has been no increase in the amount of time scientists spend with commercial fishermen. At the end of 2000 the decisions to set the 2001 TAC's were taken without any hint of regard for the inevitable socio-economic impacts. The earlier decision by MAFF to "bank" quota from last year for use this year was the only saving grace in the face of savage cuts. Though this too was fraught with controversy because the guidelines for "banking" suggest that stocks must be healthy for it to be allowed, yet the TAC cuts imposed lead us to believe the stocks are still in critical condition. Once again mixed messages were received by the industry and confidence in the science of the fisheries has plummeted to an all-time low.

  We appreciate that the decisions of Ministers are going to continue to be made on the back of the advice presented to them by the scientists. However, unless there is a significant and prompt improvement in the reliability of that advice and it starts to bear some resemblance to the observations of the fishermen on the fishing grounds, confidence in the decisions of those Ministers, based as they are on the "precautionary principle", is bound to remain at this low level.


  Recent announcements of financial assistance for the fishing industry have been paraded by Fisheries Minister, Elliot Morley, as a £22.5 million "aid package" and, as such, one would be forgiven for assuming the purpose is to help the industry to get "better" once this medicine is absorbed. Sadly, the reality reveals a different story.

This is what's on offer:

  £5 million for Cornwall under Objective 1. Local fishing vessels can get funding for improvements to crew comfort and safety, but catching capacity must not be increased. Funding is available for "environmentally friendly" fishing gear. There is money for fish processors, aquaculture projects and improvements to port facilities. The main thrust is undoubtedly towards maximising the quality of the products of fishing. This money is from the European Funds (FIFG) Financial Instruments for Fisheries Guidance, which was first announced during 2000 and which will be spent over three years. Five per cent is government funded.

  £5.5 million from the DETR for England and Wales for training fishermen to become more safety conscious and for the rejuvenation of fishing ports. This money is from the Regional Development Fund and will be spent mainly in ports where fishing has already declined to virtual insignificance. There is no intention to prompt any resurgence in fishing with this aid!

  £6 million of FIFG money for the rest of England and Wales, mainly to be spent in Objective 2 regions and also targeted at fish processors, aquaculture projects and improvements to port facilities to aid the maximisation of fish quality. There may be some spend on crew comfort and safety aboard vessels and some for fishing gear. This money had also been announced earlier in 2000 and, again, only 5 per cent is government aid.

  £6 million, MAFF funded, decommissioning or "restructuring" cash. This money has been vired across from other MAFF budgetary savings during 2000 and is not from the Treasury. As such it is not "new" money. However, it will attract a 70 per cent rebate, £4.2 million, from Brussels under MAGP IV rules! (Multi Annual Guidance Plan IV).

How will the money be spent?

  Although Cornish fishing businesses will be eligible to apply for decommissioning MAFF is unlikely to accept many bids from the County. This is because there was an outcry after the previous decommissioning scheme, which ended in 1998. Large numbers of Hake Netters were taken out of the Newlyn fleet to the dismay of industry leaders. More recently, the successful campaign for Objective 1 status for Cornwall has resulted in the launch of the £5 million scheme. Although the two schemes are mutually exclusive, it would seem to be inconsistent to pump money in for regeneration on the one hand whilst scrapping boats with the other.

  The industry will hold talks with Elliot Morley to discuss how best to use the £6 million. Apparently it is not exclusively for decommissioning, so there may be other suggestions. The Minister has, however ruled out aid for laying up vessels temporarily. This is, of course, because the government cannot get a rebate from Brussels for such aid and they want to qualify for the £4.2 million. Only by scrapping the boats do they actually attract the full 70 per cent! We should bear in mind also that the government receives taxes from the owners, who take decommissioning, so the cost to the exchequer of this scheme is not great.

  The DETR funded training scheme for fishermen is the long awaited replacement for the safety grants, which were axed in May 1999. New entrants to the industry will be given four statutory one-day courses, free at the point of delivery. Older, previously age-exempted, fishermen will be given a new two-day safety refresher course, also free at the point of delivery. Sadly, industry demands for the reinstatement of grants for safety equipment fell on deaf ears. Again, this is all about rebates and treasury rules. Funding for the training courses is entirely from Europe, but if the spending were to be on equipment the government would have to part-fund the scheme. Once again, the government is proving its lack of commitment to the fishing industry by failing to reach into its own coffers.

  Objective 1 and Objective 2 spending is strictly regulated. All projects submitted by the industry have to pass muster and are scored with rigour to ensure compliance and the aims of the CFP. Undoubtedly some owners will apply for and receive funding for improvements to their vessels. Few, however, will spend much money because the average age of boats in Devon and Cornwall is approaching 30 years. ("You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!") Most money will go to projects on shore, for fish processing and a few improvements to port facilities. It is unlikely, however, that the industry will come forward with the initial funding for such projects unless there is a sea change in government attitude. There seems to be little point in expending vast amounts on industry infrastructure whilst the only message from government is that the fleet is too big compared to fish stocks that are too small!

So what is to be done?

  Undoubtedly there will always be a fishing industry in the Southwest, but it will be changing shape over the next few years. Our waters yield some of the highest quality fish and certainly the richest variety of fish to be found in the Community. The risk of any stock being exploited to extinction is infinitesimal. Once a stock reaches the point where commercial exploitation ceases to be viable the fleet leaves it alone and it recovers.

  But there are other agencies at work.

  We are in a European Union and there are others to whom access to our fisheries has long been granted. The Union will be extended. Will other new members be granted access? Their Accession Treaties will reveal the answer.

  The Commission of the European Communities has recently published a "green paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy". One thing stands out starkly from the analysis of "where are we and to where should we go?" and that is that, without a long-term strategy for fishing, the industry will continue to lurch from one crisis to another. Such a state of uncertainty is detrimental to the future of the fish stocks and to our fishing sector businesses and communities.

  The only answer is for real and substantial investment in the industry. Not the derisory and pathetic response to the problems of the industry that the recent "aid package" is, but something much more substantive. That is the only way to bring about stock recovery and sustain the fishing industry and the communities dependent upon it while the recovery takes place.

  Most observers and commentators agree that a well-managed fishery around the UK could yield far more income that is now the case. But each successive government can only commit itself until the next election and none will have the vision to look ahead for five to 10 years.

  It is not necessary for the government to wait until the review of the CFP in 2002 to do something. There is never a better time than right now!

  Sadly, all indicators suggest that the industry will get no more than has been committed. Dressed up as a £22.5 million "aid package" it looks to all the world as if the government cares and is investing in the future of the industry. Nothing could be further from the truth but the sham won't be exposed until it is too late for many fishing businesses and, more importantly, for the fish!


  Without any doubt whatever, the fishing is now more regulated that at any time in history. However, the cost of that regime is far greater than the combined fisheries-related budgets of MAFF, the MCA, the Health and Safety Executive and the Inland Revenue.

  We are told that enforcement "is about sustainable management", but this message will only be brought home to the industry where there is trust between the two sides.

  That trust simply does not exist!

  There has never been any attempt by Government to set out a clear framework for it strategy on fisheries. MAFF dictates what the industry must do without explanation or justification. The annual cost to the taxpayer of fisheries enforcement through MAFF and the MCA must be well in excess of 10 per cent of the value of the products of fishing. Yet there has never been an audit of that expenditure!

  The industry must toe the line on a myriad of rules and regulations, each of which has cost implications for compliance and each of which carries harsh penalties for non-compliance.

    —  satellite monitoring,

    —  designated landing ports,

    —  logbooks, landing declarations, sales notes, transport tallies,

    —  quota limits,

    —  fish grading for size and quality of freshness, minimum prices at first sale,

    —  net sizes and attachments,

    —  engine power declarations,

    —  fish sizes,

    —  fire fighting gear, life saving equipment, medical stores,

    —  navigational outfit, radios,

    —  training, crew certification, risk assessment,

    —  licensing, registration,

    —  light dues,

    —  limitation of time at sea.

  The list is almost endless and, when viewed against the background of support given by the administrations of other Member States to their fishing industries, inevitably leads to the charge that MAFF is determined to destroy our fishing heritage.

  This Organisation remains committed to supporting a well thought out conservation policy backed by appropriate and proportional enforcement measures, which will lead to sustainability. However, this Organisation believes the regulatory burden administered by Government departments continues to be over reactive and chaotic. A fundamental shift to a decentralised policy administered by those much closer to the resources is a pre-requisite of effective management for sustainability.

25 April 2001

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