THE fight for a fairer deal for Hastings fishermen has been given a boost with a Government report heavily criticising the current quotas system.
Thousands of Observer readers backed the newspaper’s campaign to demand a larger share of the catch for the under 10-metre boats like those found locally and an end to the barmy rules which force fisherment to throw back dead fish.
And it seems that the powers-that-be are finally starting to listen because a committee of MPs - including Hastings’s own Amber Rudd - has this week published a hard-hitting report calling for reform.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been gathering evidence as part of an inquiry into the way domestic fishing is managed.
And it found what we in Hastings have long known - that urgent changes are needed to preserve fishermen’s livelihoods.
Anne McIntosh, chairman of the committee, said: “We were shocked to discover that DEFRA does not currently monitor who holds quota in England. This means that we don’t know how much fishing quota may be held by ‘slipper skippers’ or organisations who have little or no connection to the fishing industry and who merely trade it as a commodity.
“We are very concerned by the apparent turning of quota into a commodity at the expense of working fishermen, and we have called upon DEFRA to justify its position.
“Our report recommends that quota should only be held by working fishermen unless the holding of quota by outside interests can be shown to be of clear benefit to fishing communities.”
And Miss McIntosh added: “The distribution of quota to smaller fishing boats was a particular concern for the committee. If the Government accepts our recommendations the under 10 metre fleet would have more opportunities to acquire fishing quota — providing a life-line for those fishing communities most vulnerable to the current rules.”
The committee also heard evidence on DEFRA’s attempts to tackle the issue discards - over-quota fish being thrown back into the sea.
The chairman clearly agreed with Observer readers. She said: “Discarding is a waste of natural resources and our witnesses were united in wanting to see an end to this unsustainable practice.
“We were encouraged to hear DEFRA is already undertaking work to address this problem, but we believe the department could do more.”
Hastings MP Amber Rudd was delighted things finally seemed to be progressing.
Ms Rudd, who was one of the first people to back the Observer’s campaign, said: “We are at a critical stage of reaching for the much-needed change to restore fairness to our fishing industry.
“Our report welcomes the efforts of DEFRA to do the right thing, but is critical of the lack of bite in some of the areas.
“I am particularly concerned about any quota being owned by non-fishermen and welcome the report’s hard line on this.
“I also want to be crystal clear about how DEFRA has arrived at a proposed transfer of three per cent of quota to the Under 10m section.
“We need to see the analysis behind it so we can be confident it will achieve what is universally being reached for - a fairer deal for our fishermen.”