Fishermen’s High Court battle starts

HASTINGS fishermen headed for the High Court in London on Wednesday (May 1) in a row over fishing quotas.

The group of small-boat fishermen are joining the Government in a court battle with Britain’s most powerful fishing groups which could decide the 30-year-old question of who controls the UK’s fishing quota.

The New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA), which represents a large number of more than 300 small fishing boats registered in the south east, has been allowed to intervene, along with Greenpeace, in a landmark case which has been described as a ‘last chance saloon’ for many coastal fishermen whose livelihoods are hanging by a thread.

Delegations of fishermen from Hastings and neighbouring Eastbourne joined Greenpeace for a demonstration in front of the High Court building on the Strand as the first day of hearings began on Wednesday.

The outcome of the case is bound to have an immediate impact on many fishing communities in the south east, such as Hastings where under 10-metre boats form the backbone of the local fleet.

At the heart of the legal dispute is the decision by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) to reallocate a small amount of consistently unused fishing quota from fish producer organisations, a group of vessel owners controlling more than 95 per cent of the UK’s fishing rights, to small-scale fishermen, who have access to a tiny four per cent share, despite making up more than three quarters of the UK fleet.

Defra’s move, announced last year, raised hopes among small boat owners that this could be a first step towards a fairer distribution of quota.

But industry heavyweights, represented by the UK Association of Fish Producer Organisations, have taken Defra to court over the decision, arguing that reallocating part of their share of fishing quota is tantamount to ‘deprivation of possessions’ – an argument implying that they regard quota as a private asset.

Greenpeace and the NUTFA are arguing that fish is not a private commodity but a public good held in trust by the Government on behalf of all citizens.

Jerry Percy, chief executive of NUTFA, said: “It’s simply unacceptable that access to a public resource should be considered as just another commodity, to be bought and sold to the highest bidder.

“This is the last chance saloon for many small-scale and sustainable fishermen who will not have a future if their birth right ends up in the hands of a few big players.”

Hastings MP Amber Rudd said: “This Government and the Fisheries Minister are standing up for the small scale fishermen. This quota is going unused by the bigger boats and it is only fair that it is reallocated to the under 10-metre fishermen, like those in Hastings and Rye, who desperately need more quota.”