Small Boat fishermen fail to get increased CFP quota in Judicial Review decision

Greenpeace reports, 18th January 2016: Following a recent judicial review which saw Greenpeace challenge the UK Government over its distribution of fishing quota, Mrs Justice Andrews DBE has ruled in the Government’s favour.

Responding to the verdict, Greenpeace UK’s Head of Oceans, Will McCallum, said: “Low-impact fishing boats are the lifeblood of the UK’s fishing industry. They make up the vast majority of our fleet but the Government’s only giving them the crumbs off the table. That’s why we launched this legal challenge. But even if the Government has successfully argued that these crumbs are enough to comply with the letter of the law they’re certainly not enough for the local fishing fleet and the coastal communities they represent or in keeping with the spirit of the reformed common fisheries policy.”

Of course the verdict is disappointing, but Greenpeace is proud to have fought alongside small-scale fishermen for the reform of the CFP and to have gained significant victories with them in the form of a major uplift in quota, resulting from the discards ban, for those who fish in a sustainable way and create vital jobs in coastal communities.

The Conservative party committed in its manifesto to give a fair deal to local fishermen but by continuing to allocate around 94% of UK fishing quota to industrial boats they’re doing no favours to the environment or coastal economies.

What was the judicial review about?
Greenpeace argued that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had failed to implement Article 17 of the EU’s reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which emphasises transparency and environmental, social and economic criteria in the allocation of fishing opportunities.

Implementation of  Article 17, Greenpeace argued, should have meant that those vessels which fish in a more environmentally-friendly way and create thousands more jobs in coastal communities than large industrial boats, would be receiving a fair proportion of the quota. Despite making up almost 80% of the English and Welsh fleet, vessels under 10 metres currently receive only 6% of the fishing quota, with the vast majority given to large environmentally-destructive industrial ships and foreign-owned vessels.

But Mrs Justice Andrews ruled that the degree to which environmental criteria are prioritised is a matter for the decision maker, stating: “Whilst Article 17 obliges each Member State to include criteria of an environmental, social and economic nature, on the face of it, it is silent as to the weight to be ascribed to those criteria in the allocation process.”

Despite the CFP reforms, and a historic judicial review in 2013 during which Greenpeace sided with the Government and was successful in arguing that historic catching rights cannot be tantamount to ownership of fish, DEFRA still distributes 98% of the UK’s fishing quota using the Fixed Quota Allocations system based on catch records from the 1990s.

Greenpeace argued in court that this method has no environmental merit as it results in distributing the same amount of quota to the same vessels year-on-year without incentivising them to fish in a more sustainable way.

The full text of Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy states:
“When allocating the fishing opportunities available to them, as referred to in Article 16, Member States shall use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature. The criteria to be used may include, inter alia, the impact of fishing on the environment, the history of compliance, the contribution to the local economy and historic catch levels. Within the fishing opportunities allocated to them, Member States shall endeavour to provide incentives to fishing vessels deploying selective fishing gear or using fishing techniques with reduced environmental impact, such as reduced energy consumption or habitat damage.”

Source: Greenpeace News Release, 18th January 2016. For further details, see

Marinet observes:
This is another case of legislation being “designed to fail”. When politicians and civil servants draw up the wording of the legislation, they are familiar with the loopholes that can be built into wording of the legislation to ensure that what appears to be the case is not actually the case.

In this instance (CFP reform), putting in Article 17 — and giving its inclusion wide publicity at the time – meant that politicians could claim that they were encouraging “sustainable” fishing by incorporating an Article whose effect would be to allocate increased fishing quotas to small boat fishermen (boats under 10 metres in length).

And what happens when the Article 17 comes to be tested in a Court of Law? Answer, the provision “is silent as to the weight to be ascribed to those criteria in the allocation process.” In other words, the wording Article 17 is ambiguous; and so, the benefit to the small boat fishermen is effectively nothing.

It is beyond credulity to suppose that the politicians and civil servants did not anticipate this outcome — were they not perfectly aware that the wording would produce this outcome? To reason otherwise must lead one to the conclusion that they are dolts. No, the “fools” in this process are the environmentalists and other advocates of Article 17 who did not see this coming.

As a result, the “powers that be” win again. They have produced another piece of legislation that was designed to fail.

It is time that serious advocates of marine reform woke up to the reality of what is going on.

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