Fish fight leads to planned quota reform

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THE fight to get a fairer deal for local fishermen received a boost this week with the news that the Government plans to reform the quota system.

Earlier this month a delegation from the Observer delivered thousands of cut-out fish petitions to Number 10 Downing Street demanding action over the miserly catch quotas endured here in 1066 Country.

And this week Richard Benyon, the fisheries minister, announced plans which he hopes will help make the fishing industry more sustainable.

Among the proposals are plans to introduce community quotas in areas with small-scale fleets – which the Government hopes will be taken up in places like Hastings where the under 10-metre class of boat is most common.

The basic idea behind community quotas is that individual boats pool their allowed catch which, in theory, gives them more flexibility and stops fishermen in an area selling their quota to larger firms outside the region.

And grouped together in this way, local fishermen would also be in a better position to negotiate buying up additional spare quotas.

Each community quota group will also have a direct line to the Government and a seat at the table during any discussions with industry regulators – making it easier for small fleets to have their say.

Other mooted plans include making the allocation of catch clearer and more predictable – enabling fishermen to plan better for the future – and introducing guidelines to stop fishing rights becoming monopolised by the larger firms and fleets.

Announcing the plans this week, Mr Benyon said: “Many fishermen are struggling to make a living, and the current system for managing quota stocks isn’t helping.

“We need a simple, straightforward system that gives fishermen more say, and gives the communities that have such strong links to their fishing fleets the opportunity to invest and be involved in the way their local fleet is managed.

“The industry needs to be freed to fish so that all fishermen, and the ports that rely on them, have the opportunity to thrive.”

Members of the public now have the chance to have their say on the plans, with an online consultation running until June 30.

The announcement was music to the ears of Hastings MP Amber Rudd, who has campaigned alongside the Observer for a change to the current system which sees boats like those in Hastings receive just three per cent of the overall catch despite dominating the industry in terms of number of boats.

She said: “I welcome this important step towards change.

“The consultation recognises that the current system fails our fishermen.

“It offers several alternative remedies.

“I will be responding to the proposals after discussions with local fishermen and I urge residents to take a look at the proposals and feed in their comments.

“It is encouraging that the Government has responded to our campaign,” she added.

The plans can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/consult/fisheries-1104/.