FISHERMEN in Hastings could be paid to decommission their boats amid a raft of measures designed to protect the industry.
The Observer was in Parliament this week to hear two fishing experts reveal the extent to which current quotas are damaging the under 10 metre class of boats, like those found here in 1066 Country.
Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation, and Jeremy Percy, chief executive of the New Under Ten Metre Fishermen’s Association, both warned a Government committee that the industry would not survive unless widespread changes were introduced.
And among those mooted during the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) meeting were plans to pay fishermen to scrap their boats - meaning those remaining would have a larger share of the quota.
Other ideas included devolving the responsibility for quota distribution to new regional groups, which in theory would allow more flexibility than the current system.
Mr Percy said: “I do not know how long the under 10 metre industry can continue if things stay the same.
“The current system is both unfair and unjust. A very significant proportion of the UK quota is held by non-active fishing interests and leased back to working fishermen at great expense.”
He also criticised the way large producer organisations (the bodies which control quotas for the over 10 metre sector) hold on to quotas despite not using them, while smaller boats are facing bankruptcy because the number of fish they can catch barely covers the expense of running a boat.
Mr Deas dismissed the proposed total ban on discards as “posturing” by politicians and said the industry itself was already taking steps to reduce the waste outside of what he called a knee-jerk reaction to bad publicity.
“It is a case of the cart before the horse,” he told the committee and said a ban on discards would only work if introduced alongside a wider package of support for the smaller boats.
But Mr Percy welcomed the recent media attention on the subject, using the example of a boat in the North Sea which was forced to dump nearly 50 tonnes of fish in one haul as a way of highlighting the frustration felt at the coal face.
And he congratulated the Observer on its Fairer Deal Fishermen campaign, which has now attracted more than 2,000 cut out fish.
“For a town like Hastings fishing is very important,” he said. “It is part of the town’s identity and brings in a lot of money to the local economy.” He revealed that a study done in St Ives, which has a smaller fleet than the one found here, showed that nearly £500,000 of fish was caught each year - but that the fleet itself generated around £15million.
Hastings MP Amber Rudd sits on the DEFRA committee and said she thought the meeting had gone well and remained confident an agreement could be reached to redistribute more of the quota to the under 10 metre class, which currently gets just four per cent of the overall catch, despite making up more than 70 per cent of the UK fleet.
She said: “Fishing is vital to Hastings and I will keep fighting to get a fairer deal for our fishermen.”