Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Chief Executive, Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd (T14)

  Thank you for your letter dated 5 April 2001, which refers.

  Please accept my apologies for the late reply. As you will appreciate, devolution has dictated that we in Northern Ireland have a devolved Assembly, with its own Agriculture Committee. This Committee had its latest discussion on the Northern Irish fishing industry, and in particular our fishing vessel decommissioning scheme, on Friday of last week, and we had been busy preparing information for the MLAs.

  Some might say that given devolution, is there really any need for us to write to the House of Commons Agriculture Committee. However, given the apparent lack of power and influence local politicians have upon sea fisheries policy, this avenue remains an appropriate one for us to follow.

  The various stock recovery plans and associated closures may be an issue high on the agenda of all the Committee Members. I trust they will remember it was for the Irish Sea that pioneered the idea of stock recovery plans, which are being extended to other areas, including the North Sea. This is probably not an enviable accolade, but the problems and lessons stemming from the Irish Sea closure are largely ignored following the introduction of the North Sea Cod Recovery Plan which has a greater impact on the English and Scottish fishing industries. From 14 February to 30 April 2000, directed fisheries for Cod in the Irish Sea were prohibited. During the proceeding discussions in Brussels this Organisation warned about the effect of these closures. Diversion of effort onto other fisheries and into other areas was flagged up as a major concern. Unfortunately many, including industry representatives from other parts of the UK, ignored our warnings. It was only after last year's closure had ended and fishermen in the North Sea were staring a similar closure in their waters during 2001, were our predictions paid any heed. Indeed, it was rather amusing to read that the European Commission's Director General of Fisheries, Steffen Smidt, recently described the diversion of effort associated with this year's North Sea closure as "an unforeseen problem".

  MAFF have congratulated the members of this Organisation for the constructive attitude they took to last year's closure. Members of this Organisation proposed a package of technical conservation measures as part of the Irish Sea Cod Recovery plan which have since been adopted as an EU Regulation. Some might suggest this was evidence that fishermen's ideas are listened to, but to those of us who drafted the proposal it provided yet more evidence of EC's and UK Fisheries Department's "cherry picking" of those ideas that suited their agenda. We proposed a closed area in the Irish Sea, which from our perspective would have afforded maximum protection to spawning Cod, while allowing whitefish fishermen to continue making a living. The WWF highlighted the positive way our members had tackled the problem. Unfortunately, our proposed closure was thrown out in favour of a much more expansive area, which had the effect of diverting trawlers onto the Nephrop fishery (putting further pressure on this quota and prices for the species) and into other areas, the North Channel. Officials handling of the Irish Sea closure has once again not encouraged fishermen to take a proactive attitude to fisheries management. Yet despite the lessons they should have learned from the Irish Sea, the European Commission, supported by MAFF etc insisted on following a similar course on the North Sea closure.

  To protect a stock which makes up about 12 per cent of the value of all fish and shellfish landed into Northern Ireland, the local fleet sacrificed 30 per cent of its earning during last year.

  For 2001 we successfully negotiated a derogation to allow local trawlers to target the haddock fishery within the closed area, but this derogation was only permitted for five weeks of the closure. Fishing vessels were again forced to diversify into other fisheries, although what made things worse for the Nephrop fishery was that the TAC for this species had been cut for a second time in two years and the West of Scotland Cod Recovery Plan was introduced, closing more traditional fishing grounds in the North Channel.

  Some advocated tie-ups with compensation. This was refused by Government. Last year this Organisation's priority was to keep our fleet at sea, but this year EC and Government policy has driven us in the direction of advocating compensation for our fishermen. (It is worth remembering that the fishing industry is the only part of the agriculture sector which does not receive a production subsidy.) In February 2001 we proposed a short term limited tie-up scheme for part of the Northern Irish Fleet, which would have cost a total of £750,000. This proposal received unanimous cross party support during a debate by the Northern Ireland assembly on 27 March 2001. However, our Minister, supported by her officials was able to walk away from this vote and do nothing, other than give a commitment that she would examine the matter for next year in consultation with other UK Fisheries Ministers. Next year's closures in the Irish Sea will be the third in succession and still we are guaranteed nothing, either in terms of compensation or increased quota allocations.

  Scientific advice on the 2001 Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Irish Sea Cod actually advised an increased TAC. The UK delegation failed to achieve this increase at the December 2000 Fisheries Council. The UK's fisheries ministers expressed their sympathy, but of course sympathy does not pay bills.

  We had been advised by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Belfast, in December 1999 that the effects of reduced quotas and area closures would be cushioned by the introduction of a fishing vessel decommissioning scheme. While the intention to have a scheme has been announced, nearly 18 months later our fishermen are still awaiting the launch of this scheme.

  At least with devolution we thought that our decommissioning scheme could be formulated in such a way so as to protect the long term sustainability of the entire fishing industry in Northern Ireland. Our primary objective was to ensure the track record derived from decommissioned fishing vessels was retained in the Province. DARD employed a consultant at the end of 2000 who was tasked with discussing various ideas for decommissioning with the industry and Government. Following his deliberations we were briefed by officials on two occasions. Today officials have backtracked on what was originally intended because they tell us protocol must be observed between the various other UK Fisheries Departments. So what has been the point of devolving fisheries matter to a Minister at Stormont? This is not a national fishing vessel decommissioning scheme. Until a few weeks ago Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK in line for a decommissioning scheme. Having European Transition Objective One Status, we had secured EU funding for a scheme. Then Scotland, England and Wales were able to find funds from within their own budgets and introduce their own schemes. So, we now have three schemes running concurrently and as a result Northern Irish interests and I would suggest interests of similar regions throughout the UK have been surrendered. We in the fishing industry have complained so often in the past about decisions that are made at European and National level which have potentially far reaching consequences for our fishing fleet, but what is really depressing is that we are today in a situation where the fishing vessel decommissioning policy, as presently drafted by our devolved institutions, could have a devastating impact on the future of the entire Northern Irish fishing industry.

  We are told the Department's solicitors have advised such a course of action. What we want to know is what has changed in fisheries legislation to in effect describe the track record as a property right. In their 1999 report the Committee recommended (paragraph 86) "that MAFF provide clear guidance on the legal title to licences and quota . . ." MAFF response was that there were "no plans to change the existing position whereby licences and quotas apply at the discretion of Ministers but with fishermen's interests protected by the legal concept of legitimate expectation." Subsequent discussion with the industry indicated no willingness to move way from this position, yet today fisheries Departments insist that as part of the decommissioning scheme, the track record should be handed to and disposed of by the owner of the vessel concerned as they see fit. There seems to be a contradiction.

  As mentioned above we regard the most important issue within the decommissioning scheme as being what happens to the FQA quota units (the fish/track record) attached to the licence. That is to return the fish from decommissioned fishing vessels to the Producer Organisation in which that vessel was in membership. By doing this the fish would remain within Northern Ireland for the benefit of the entire Northern Irish fishing industry. In fact, we were advised on two occasions by DARD officials this would be the case.

  In Correspondence with the Northern Ireland Assembly's Agriculture Committee, officials talked about the "Fisheries Measure of the Northern Ireland Programme for Building Sustainable Prosperity (BSP)". I would argue that adopting the policy of allowing the owner of freedom "to dispose of this FQA quota units as he wishes", will be counter productive to a policy of BSP. If the fish is passed onto another individual this will reward that individual with new or enhanced fishing opportunities within the Irish Sea. The trawler to which that fish was originally attached might be scrapped, but the policy being advocated by DARD will allow the fish to be purchased by another individual who will attach it to another trawler that will then take the place of the decommissioned vessel in the Irish Sea. Therefore, overall fishing effort in the area will not have been reduced. The whole purpose of decommissioning will have failed. BSP or to put it another way, the long term prosperity of the fleet will not be achieved. We have already witnessed this with the last national scheme which adopted this principle. In many cases where the individual was allowed to retain the track record, this fish was placed on another new trawler which was introduced to the Irish Sea fishery. So the overall size of the fleet was not reduced. Fish stocks did not receive the level of protection intended.

  With the current economic climate within the industry any "Northern Irish" fish that came up for sale, like track records from other UK regions, would probably be sold to interests outside of the Province and non-UK residents. It is no accident that those within the Scottish industry who have advocated the policy now contained in the draft Statutory Rule have access to substantial sums of money for the sole purpose of buying track record. In Northern Ireland we have sought to use various funding sources like Peace and Reconciliation and the lottery, but with no success. Since 1995, Northern Ireland's share of the UK quotas within the Irish Sea has fallen from 63 per cent to around 55 per cent. Today, the policy as advocated by Fisheries Departments will speed this process along. So what are officials looking for? It is a sustainable long term future for the fish and the fishing industry, or value for money? DARD's own consultant, who was one of those who originally advocated the policy of allowing the vessel owner to dispose of his own track record, stated in his November 1999 Ex-Ante Evaluation of the Fisheries Sub-Programme prepared for DARD that "the option to retain track record had no discernible downward effect on bids". Therefore it did not achieve better value for money. In the same document the consultant argued that "a key feature of any further decommissioning scheme would be to retain the quota within the Province."

  The proposal made by the fisherman's organisations, that the track record should be given to the organisation in which the decommissioned vessel was in membership, would achieve the desired effect and was in line with DARD's independent consultant's advice. By following our policy no individual would have access to the fish. Therefore, no new vessel would be introduced to the fishery. The track record would be retained by the fisherman's organisation (which is a community based body) for the benefit of its remaining membership. Fishing effort would not be increased and the remaining fishing vessels would become more viable. The whole economic infrastructure of the local fishing industry would be protected. Supplies would be maintained to local fish processors and that fish would be landed into Northern Irish fishing ports, thus safeguarding their financial position. Without their own track record no additional fishing vessels could be introduced to the fleet. Fish stocks would be protected, adding to their and the industry's long term sustainability. Such a policy would be building for sustainable prosperity.

  There are individuals within the industry who support DARD's line. However, while wishing to secure the best deal possible for those that wish to leave the industry, we need to ensure that there is a future for those who have to remain and want to remain a part of the industry. Therefore, this Organisation's Board recently ratified the policy of returning the track record from decommissioned vessels to the fishermen's organisations.

  In conclusion, whether or not they have a formal education, a fisherman's intuition, observation and experience of the sea on which they depend to work, live and fish is as much part of fisheries science and gear selectivity as that institutionalised by government. Be it with stock recovery plans or fishing vessel decommissioning schemes, fishermen's opinions should be listened to. Otherwise we will continue in the same spiral of disaster which has become so evident during the past few years and officials who count the days until their retirement will make decisions that will have reaching and long lasting consequences for an industry about which they know very little.

1 May 2001

LANDINGS VALUE—1999 vs 2000

1999 Feb-Apr 2000 Feb-Apr% Change
Ardglass  £1.13 million   £0.64 million¸43%
Kilkeel  £2.48 million   £1.43 million¸42%
Portavogie  £2.42 million   £1.73 million¸29%
NIFHA  £6.03 million   £3.8 million  ¸37%
NI Total  £6.53 million   £4.6 million  ¸30%
1999 Jan-Dec 2000 Jan-Dec% Change
Ardglass  £3.8 million     £2.6 million  ¸32%
Kilkeel  £8.6 million     £6.1 million  ¸29%
Portavogie  £7.6 million     £6.1 million  ¸20%
NIFHA  £20 million   £14.8 million¸26%
NI Total  £22.6 million   £17.9 million¸21%

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