Beyond the Common Fisheries Policy: Scrutiny of the Fisheries Bill Contents

4Fishing Opportunities

49.“Fishing opportunities” refers to the maximum amount of fish that may be caught or the maximum number of days that may be spent at sea.70 The CFP seeks to manage access to EU waters for the benefit of Member States, the environment, and the fishing industry by annually proposing total allowable catches (TACs) in a fishing area and allowing Member States to agree on local quotas and shared stocks management.71 This process is predominantly informed by scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), with a final decision made by Member States at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council every December.72

50.The summary of responses to the White Paper consultation stated that as an independent coastal state, the UK would be responsible for negotiating with other coastal states - the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands - to agree the TAC and shares for stocks that are shared across each other’s waters. The Sustainable Fisheries White Paper states that: “under the CFP’s principle of relative stability, the UK receives a fixed share of fishing opportunities based on historical fishing patterns in 1973 - 1978. This is seen by many in the sector as unrepresentative of the fish now in UK waters”.73 The Government has stated that it will also seek to move away from the CFP’s principle of relative stability towards what it intends to be a fairer and more scientific method for future TAC shares and that this will be a condition of any future access.74

Additional opportunities

51.Under Clause 22, the Bill grants powers to the Secretary of State to sell English fishing opportunities for a calendar year based either on catch quota or effort quota (days at sea). The introduction of effort as a measure for quota is expected to operate largely on a trial basis. Similar considerations existed under the CFP but were largely discontinued after acceptance that limiting a vessel’s time at sea did not necessarily also limit the long-term intensity of its operations.75 The Explanatory Notes to the Bill indicate the potential for these objectives to influence criteria for sale of opportunities. The Notes state that the Government’s “intention is that the scheme would be used to tender a proportion of the additional fishing opportunities that are gained following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU”.76 The scheme could include the requirement that certain criteria are met in order to purchase fishing opportunities, for example environmental criteria. The Government says that it is not intended that the scheme would be used to sell fishing opportunities exclusively on the basis of price.77

52.Upon the publication of the Sustainable Fisheries White Paper, the Secretary of State explained that:

as an independent coastal state, under international law, we will be in control of the seas that make up our exclusive economic zone. We will determine, in annual negotiations with our neighbours, who has access to our waters. We will also ensure that any additional fishing opportunities then available to our vessels are allocated fairly and thoughtfully to help support vessels of all sizes and communities across the UK.78

53.The provision to allow quota to be tendered is not a new idea. New Zealand currently operates a tender process whereby Crown-held quota and annual catch entitlements can be sold to commercial fishers.79 Despite this, the proposal to tender quota was controversial amongst witnesses. Jeremy Percy, Chief Executive of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA), admitted that he “struggle[d] to understand where that came from or where the logic is”.80 Mr Percy considered that tendering would “inevitably benefit only those who have the financial resources to do so”.81 Others were uneasy that the Bill sought to make such a significant change to the management of quotas without a more focused consultation and trial.82

54.When we asked George Eustice MP, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, about the proposal to tender additional fishing opportunities, he told us:

to ensure that there is stability […] we will leave the existing FQA [Fixed Quota Allocation] units as they are for existing fishing opportunities. As we depart from relative stability and have new fishing opportunities coming in, I do not think it makes any sense at all to compound the injustice of the FQA system.83

55.In response to concerns expressed by representatives of the ‘Under 10s’, the Minister stated that “For the under-10 pool, you might do something very different. You might […] simply just put some extra fishing opportunities in there and not tender it”.84

56.The UK will have additional fishing opportunities after leaving the EU. An opportunity now exists to allocate these more fairly and transparently across the sector, and in line with the Government’s stated objectives in Clause 1. While we welcome the Government’s commitment to establishing a new method of allocation, the proposals laid down in Clause 22 do not meet our expectations and lack detail. We are concerned that such proposals will marginalise owners of smaller vessels and will not represent a significant break from current practice, which is based on the situation many years ago when the UK joined the EU.

57.The Government should consult widely on the tender process for allocation of additional English quota and ensure buy-in from a range of stakeholders within the industry, including the operators of smaller vessels. Consultation should be followed by a trial, with feedback from affected parties to ensure workability and efficacy.

Discards policy

58.A discard ban was introduced under the CFP’s Landing Obligation, which aims to encourage fishing vessels, for example through more selective fishing gear, to minimise unwanted catch. The ban was introduced in 2015, with support of the UK Government, and came into full force on 1 January 2019, requiring all commercial species that are caught to be landed, whether or not they are target species. Fish landed in this way count against the TAC for a species in that area. TACs were given one-off uplifts to take account of extra landings due the discard ban, with Member States determining how extra quota is distributed. However, if TAC limits are reached because of the landing obligation it can result in fisheries being closed, which may particularly affect the UK’s mixed fisheries, because reaching a quota limit for one species can mean fishing vessels have to tie up.85

59.The Summary of responses to the White Paper consultation stated that the
Government remains committed to ending the discarding of fish, which it has included as one of the Bill’s sustainability objectives.86 Clause 1 of the Fisheries Bill includes a discards objective which is unamended from the CFP regulations. Clauses 23–27 of the Bill provides a framework for the establishment of a “Discard charging prevention scheme” for charging English fishing-license holders that land fish in excess of their authorised quota.

60.There were mixed views on the discard ban. The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) saw it as only a partial solution, similar to schemes in Norway and New Zealand which each operate discard bans.87 It predicted that the scheme would not remove all choke risks (where boats are prevented from going to sea because of the nature of their catch) but would be a useful instrument in reducing “the risk of the exhaustion of small bycatch species choking the main target species in a mixed fishery”.88

61.Conversely, the South Devon Channel Shellfishermen considered that discarding could continue illegally or alongside fishers preferring to accept the charge rather than invest in more sustainable equipment.89 The Eastern England Fish Producers Organisation expressed similar views.90 The Law Society of Scotland was concerned the high-level Bill includes no provision for appeal or dispute resolution for the discard charging scheme, while others commented on the omission of a timetable for eliminating discards.91

62.We questioned the Minister about such concerns and on the possible implications of the proposed discard prevention charging scheme. The Minister acknowledged anxieties about the continuation of the Landing Obligation and explained that:

The discard prevention charge is designed to give the fishing industry additional flexibility to manage discard reduction. It gives them an option to pay a charge to land catch in excess of quota but it will be priced in such a way that it is financially preferable to adopt more sustainable practices and avoidance measures to reduce unwanted bycatch.92

The Minister assured the Committee that Defra would continue to define the scheme’s practicalities and consult industry through a joint working party.93

63.We support the inclusion of the discards objective in Clause 1. The introduction of a new discard prevention charging scheme in Clause 23 is also welcome as a means to mitigate the impacts on industry. However, industry has valid concerns about the workability of such a scheme in practice. These concerns need to be addressed with urgency, taking into account experience, both good and bad, of the current discard scheme.

64.The Government should trial and thoroughly consult on the discard prevention charging scheme and the associated secondary legislation to ensure it is workable, helps reduce discards and has stakeholder buy-in. The Government should establish a national research programme to identify new solutions to the issue of discard prevention with an aim of reporting its findings before the end of the transition period.

70 Explanatory Note to the Fisheries Bill [Bill 305 (2017–19 −EN)], page 22

71 The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), European Commission, accessed 11 January 2019

72 Scientific advice on managing fish stocks, European Commission, accessed 11 January 2019; Agriculture and Fisheries Council configuration (AGRIFISH), European Council, accessed 11 January 2019

73 Defra, Sustainable fisheries for future generations, CM 9660, July 2018, page 18

75 Are Days the Answer?, NFFO, 3 April 2017

76 Explanatory Note to the Fisheries Bill [Bill 305 (2017–19 −EN)], page 24

77 Explanatory Note to the Fisheries Bill [Bill 305 (2017–19 −EN)], page 24

78 HC Deb, 4 July 2018, col 338

82 For example, Q122 [Jim Portus]

85 The Fisheries Bill 2017–19, Briefing Paper Number 8442, House of Commons Library, 3 December 2018, page 36–37

87 The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) (SFB0005), para 14.2

88 The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) (SFB0005), para 14.3

89 South Devon & Channel Shellfishermen Ltd (SFB0004), para 2


91 Law Society of Scotland (SFB0026), page 2; Cornwall and Heart of the South West Brexit Resilience and Opportunities Group (SFB0021), page 4

92 The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (SFB0055), page 3

93 The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (SFB0055), page 3

Published: 20 January 2019