Euro MP’s blog: It’s a fishy business

LAST week the Fisheries Committee in the European Parliament agreed to end the wasteful practice of discards – fishermen being forced to throw back dead fish.

The issue has been high on the agenda for a while and new energy was lent to the campaign by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fishfight campaign.

Good news for Sussex fishermen then? Unfortunately, though it is a bit of breakthrough, not all is as it seems.

Foot dragging from the French and Spanish means the ban on discards will be implemented gradually, with deadlines on a case-by-case basis. The ban on discarding fish such as cod (crucial to our local fishermen) could be delayed until as late as 1 January 2018.  

More significantly it does not address the fundamental problem faced by Sussex fishermen based out of places like Eastbourne, Hastings and Rye – lack of quota.

Quota is the number (weight) of fish boats are allowed to catch and it is divvied up by the Westminster Government. It’s worth remembering they are our indeed our fish; they’re a public asset not owned by any individual, corporation or organisation.

The under 10m fleet, which includes most of our local fishermen, tends to land high quality fish, using methods that do little or no damage to the local environment. Despite that excellent track record they are penalised. Despite comprising 77% of the active UK fleet, they have access to only 4% of the country’s quota.

So where’s the other 96%? Currently there’s no register of quota allocation (we need one) but we can be fairly sure it lies with the big industrial scale organisations which have the economic and political clout to bend the ear of politicians and officials.

A public resource has slipped away from public ownership into the hands of the few. A process that looks like little more than privatisation by stealth is squeezing out our small boat fishermen.

While I applaud the move to end discards at the European level the timetable must be speeded up to bring a swift end to this disgraceful practice.

But crucially the ball is now in the UK Government’s court – the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in Europe represents a golden opportunity to act at home and end the disastrously unfair distribution of quota within Britain.

Community based inshore fishermen like those along the Sussex coast are an endangered species. But they are not gone yet, they could yet thrive again if only given the chance to go out and fish.

Peter Skinner, MEP South-east