Fishermen’s joy at High Court

UK Fishermen Phil Smy, Jerry Percy (back), Adrian Lester, Graham Doswell (back), Geoff Skae (holding fish), James White (back), Roger Hipwell, Dave Cuthbert, Kirk Stribling (ltr) stand outside the High Court. Pic by John Cobb
UK Fishermen Phil Smy, Jerry Percy (back), Adrian Lester, Graham Doswell (back), Geoff Skae (holding fish), James White (back), Roger Hipwell, Dave Cuthbert, Kirk Stribling (ltr) stand outside the High Court. Pic by John Cobb

FISHERMEN in 1066 Country have won a landmark victory in their fight to get a fairer quota in the UK’s fishing quota this week.

At a High Court hearing in London on Wednesday (July 10), which lasted two months, the judge threw out an attempt by big fishing firms to protect their hold on Britain’s stock.

In the landmark ruling the court backed the Government’s decision to redistribute some of the unused fishing allowances held by the industry heavyweights to small inshore fishing boats, such as the Hastings fleet.

It rejected all three grounds on which the industry lobby challenged the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). These included a claim that fishing quota cannot be taken away from the current holders because it was private property.

Greenpeace and the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA), which represents small-scale fishermen, argued that the right to fish must be treated as a public good, held in trust by the Government, which should distribute it to those fishermen who operate more sustainably, play by the rules, and offer the best return for consumers and the local economy.

Currently more than 95 per cent of quota is tied up by a group of Fish Producer Organisations, powerful consortia of vessel owners representing mostly large trawlers.

Small-scale fishermen have access to only four per cent of fishing quota despite making up three quarters of Britain’s fleet.

Paul Joy, Hastings fisherman and co-chairman of the NUTFA, said: “This week’s ruling by the High Court is brilliant news.

“It should give us a degree of stability.

“In 2006 I was allowed to catch three tonnes of cod a month. Now I’m only allowed 50kg a month, which is not even half a fish a day.”

Hastings MP Amber Rudd said: “This is welcome good news for Hastings fishermen, at last the principal of transferring quota has been confirmed.

“This is something I have campaigned for since before I became an MP but have stepped up as an MP.

“It is essential that our fishing community in Hastings receives a larger share of the quota. Now the principal of reallocation has been confirmed as legal, I will be fighting for a larger share of the quota for our fishermen.”

Fisheries minister Richard Benyon’s decision to shift unused fishing quota from one sector of the fleet to another marks the first serious attempt in decades to tackle the imbalance in the distribution of commercial fishing rights in the UK, Greenpeace said.

Its ocean campaigner, Ariana Densham, said: “This ruling is a great victory not just for small-scale fishermen, but for anyone who cares about the future of our seas and coastal communities.

“The judge has demolished the arguments used by the fishing barons to justify their stranglehold on Britain’s fish, giving back control of our seas to the public and our elected government.

“With the backing of the UK High Court, the fisheries minister Richard Benyon is in a stronger position than ever before to wipe the slate clean on decades of monumental mismanagement of fishing quota by successive governments.

“It’s time to build a vibrant and viable future for the UK’s marine environment and the fishing communities that depend on it.”

The amount of quota that can be reallocated as a direct result of the ruling, and which covers species like cod, sole, and herring, will now go into a common pool shared by small-scale fishermen in different parts of the UK, including the south and east coasts of England.