Fisheries Bill

Written evidence submitted by the South Western Fish Producer Organisation Ltd (FISH11)

This response to consultation provides the SWFPO Ltd view of the Fisheries Bill.

We are looking forward to this new legislation that marks progress towards Brexit, to a new UK Fisheries Policy (UKFP) and beyond to a sea of opportunity.

In 1974 South Western Fish Producer Organisation Ltd was registered (21071R) as a Mutual Society under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965. SWFPO Ltd is a British institution founded in compliance with an EU Regulation, the Common Organisation of the Market in Fisheries Products (CMO).

SWFPO Ltd is one of more than 160 Fish Producer Organisations in the EU. We hope to be one of the first post-Brexit, UK Fish Producer Organisations granted existence, powers and responsibilities under the new Fisheries legislation.

Amongst other aims SWFPO Ltd must "a) Ensure that fishing is carried out along rational lines and that conditions for the sale of members’ produce are maximised, b) Take such measures as will promote for the benefit of members the implementation of fishing plans…in full accord with the objectives contained in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and c) Apply production and marketing rules adopted to maximise produce quality and to adopt the volume of supply to market requirements."

Our members are in the business of fishing as an economic activity and the Organisation must do all in its powers to maximise their production, consistent with tenets of the CFP and the objectives of the CMO.

In 2017, according to figures obtained from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), the annual value of SWFPO members’ production (gross income of our 86 members’ vessels from all fish sales) amounted to £50.9 millions derived from 23,377 tonnes of fresh fish, of which approximately £10.3 millions derived from the Demersal and Pelagic quota stocks (TAC species) (20.2% quota species, 79.8% non-quota species). SWFPO member vessels landed 7,703 tonnes of King Scallops (non-quota) to the value of £18.3 millions.

TAC = Total Allowable Catch in tonnes (more correctly this has been the "total allowable landing" tonnage, but will become the TAC under the Discards Landing Obligation of 2019)

Quota = national allocation as a proportional share of the TAC derived from the principle of "Relative Stability" distribution keys of the Common Fisheries Policy 1983.

1. The Fisheries Bill foundations and objectives:

The Common Fisheries Policy has been a major reason for countries with both substantial fish resources and small home markets, like Norway, Iceland, and Danish dependencies ( Greenland  and the  Faroe Islands ) and some other dependencies, to stay outside the European Union.

Exclusive competence over the living marine resources in the seas around our shores was handed to Brussels in 1971 by Edward Heath when he took Britain into the European Community. Our fish became a European, not a national asset.

The British fishing industry was condemned and sunk with just a few words of the Treaty of Rome: "The inauguration of a common agricultural policy..." Agricultural products shall mean the products of ...fisheries..."

...and with a few words of the UK Treaty of Accession, which included for fisheries the "principle of equal access to a common resource without discrimination."

After decades of campaigning for meaningful reforms that never happened, SWFPO’s diminishing membership (diminished by boat scrapping schemes) was resigned to the UK remaining locked into the rigid dictates of the 2013 edition of the Common Fisheries Policy that incorporated the target of Maximum Sustainable Yields for all managed fish species (TACs) and the Discards Landing Obligation (DLO).

The UK fishing industry has never been enthusiastic about our EU membership and has a proud record of defiance and rallying to prove it. Fishermen demonstrated their disdain for the Heath "sell-out" by sailing up the Thames in the early 1970s and the industry has repeated the exercise many times. The pre-referendum flotilla to the Thames in June 2016 that included some SWFPO members is a defining moment in our national political history.

The UK fishing industry was almost universally ecstatic with the resulting referendum vote to leave the EU.

From 29th March 2019, the UK will become once again an independent sovereign coastal State. The conduct of the UK in relation to the management and exploitation of our fisheries resources will be as laid down in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982. (UNCLOS III)

The new Fisheries Bill lays a legislative foundation for a UK Fisheries Policy by which our Minister of Fisheries can act in international fisheries negotiations and can manage better the domestic fisheries in our EEZ.

Broadly the SWFPO Ltd welcomes the Fisheries Bill. The "Fisheries Objectives" are unarguable as tenets of prudent managers.

We are pleased that the first of these objectives, the "sustainability objective" includes that fishing and aquaculture activities are not only "environmentally sustainable in the long term", but are "managed in a way that is consistent with the objectives of achieving economic, social and employment benefits, and of contributing to the availability of food supplies."

It is vital to our members that the fisheries management regime is such that sensible investments are encouraged that harness prosperity and help maintain good employment prospects in our fishing communities.

The "Precautionary objective" includes "to ensure that exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield."

We believe this may be a hostage to fortune. Biomass levels fluctuate for reasons other than fishing pressures. The aim would be better explained by stating "at or above biomass levels capable of producing high long-term sustainable yields, if possible at MSY."

For stocks located primarily in UK waters and where there is headroom between historic utilisation of quotas and MSY, the UK should retain the surplus for the use of its own fishing fleets, as provided for in UNCLOS III.

The timescale to achieve MSY should be adjusted appropriately to the nature of the mixed fisheries found in UK waters.

The "Ecosystem objective" should include text such that other human activities than fishing in the marine ecosystem should be controlled, monitored and regulated to ensure that fisheries are not degraded.

We support the other objectives.

We are concerned that the article (1.8) that defines "UK fishing boat" relies on outdated legislation, the Merchant Shipping Act (MSA) 1995. It is our hope that, post-Brexit the UK will be no longer restrained by the past rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) vide the "Factortame" case.

The MSA should then be updated to revise the qualifications for owning a British registered fishing vessel to ensure full and genuine economic link to the UK as the "Flag State".

We are disappointed that the Fisheries Bill does not contain specific provision for the "Economic Link" criteria for ownership of a British Registered Fishing Vessel to be tightened to ensure real and genuine interest in the UK as Flag State by owners of such vessels.

2. Fisheries Statements: We are concerned that fisheries management throughout UK waters and in respect of all resources should be conducted without political interference and having the highest regard for the Fisheries Objectives above. The devolution settlement has exposed that the Devolved Administrations may be influenced differentially by stakeholders giving rise to disjointed policy decisions and potential for confusion and even to conflict at borders. We would support the creation of a pan-UK advisory body to inform and assist the process of policy development in the interests of harmony and good order. A new "Fisheries Concordat" should be developed with the help of such a body to ensure agreement is the norm in future fisheries management.

While we agree that it is important the UK complies with the objectives of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008), we are not so sure that its timetable should form part of the UK Fisheries Bill. There are probably better legislative vehicles for inclusion of MSFD.

Access to British fisheries

7. Revocation of requirement for equal access for EU fishing vessels:

8. Access to British fisheries by foreign fishing boats:

We are pleased to see these articles and requirements brought forward in the Fisheries Bill. In concert with revocation of the London Fisheries Convention 1964 the UK will be well placed to exercise fisheries management as a sovereign independent coastal State acting within the terms of UNCLOS III.

Sections 10 to 13: Licensing of fishing boats:

The section is complex, but it is very important that licenses are required that are issued under the authority of this legislation and not by assumption of Member States of the EU. Certainly not by a mechanism of "horse trading" whereby foreign vessels are granted unfettered access to UK resources in exchange for some opportunity or another.

Fishing opportunities:

Sections 18 through 21 are not contentious.

22. Sale of English fishing opportunities for a calendar year:

We are not comfortable with the UK Secretary of State embodying a new and potentially far-reaching power within this Primary Legislation. This may be seen by the Office of Fair Trading as unfair interference in the market place by a government Minister and Department.

We are not sure there has been "market failure" that warrants such government intervention in the market. We would wish to see a full Regulatory Impact Assessment justifying the need for State Intervention in this way, particularly addressing that the particular Articles of the Fisheries Bill relate to the sale of "English" fishing opportunities that might cause distortions to competition across devolved administration boundaries.

23. Discard prevention charging schemes:

We are intrigued by the novelty of this approach to handling fish landed under the terms of the new "Discards Landing Obligation".

SWFPO has been encouraging our members to adopt gear selectivity improvements to minimize the risks of bringing up from the depths fish that are of low merchantable quality or are of smaller than the minimum conservation reference sizes (MCRS). We would prefer our members to fish responsibly and with due regard for sustainability. However, by-catch is inevitable when the fish have no idea they are being guided into a net and may not escape through selectivity devices.

Under such circumstances it is a great pity that the UK seems willing to accept the failure of its scientists and those of ICES to gauge accurately the amounts of fish that have been discarded in the past. The UK should add those amounts to the Quotas as was the intention of the "Uplift quotas" that the EU is using and will continue to use after Brexit to ensure fishermen have enough quota to cover the usual landings plus the amount that would have been discarded in the past.

40. Interpretation:

Article 40 includes the definition: "producer organisation" means an organisation established under Article 6 of Regulation (EU) No 1379/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council and recognised in accordance with Section 2 of Chapter 2 of that Regulation.

We are concerned that there is need for a UK legal definition that would allow for new POs to be registered in the UK post-Brexit.

We are pleased to note the Government amendment to the Fisheries Bill, now proposed, will oblige any future Secretary of State to cede access to fish in UK waters only in return for fairer quota shares for the UK. As an example of where change is needed, the UK share of Channel cod is 9%, whilst the French share is 84%.

These changes to the Fisheries Bill, currently passing through Parliament, will also make clear that after the UK has left, total allowable catches will be set following annual negotiations with the EU and other countries with which the UK shares stocks.

These proposed amendments were announced on 10th December 2018.

We thank you for providing the opportunity for stakeholder comment to the proposed legislation.

Best fishes,

Jim Portus CEO SWFPO Ltd.

December 2018

 

Prepared 12th December 2018