Stephen Eades – Defra’s Fishing Minister acts contrary to Scientific Advice and against the rebuilding of Fish Stocks – Mar 15

In a scene resembling “Yes, Minister” George Eustice, Defra’s Fisheries Minister, was packed off to Europe with a firm brief from his Ministry — “Fight our corner Minister, and don’t come back with less quota than we have now.” Like a house-trained official he went off . . . . and came back laden with quota exceeding scientific advice!

This was copied across Europe, and demonstrates clearly that we are being led either by the inane or served by a corrupt system. When will a well-resourced NGO take up the cudgels and challenge the legality of the actions of these individual Ministers and/or the Ministry and the system they represent?

Where was the new thinking about BMSY (biomassbiomass The amount of living matter. This is therefore a different measure to numbers of organisms. So, for example, there is much more biomass in 1 elephant than there is in 1000 fleas and there may be more biomass in 100 large cod than you would find in 150 small (because of over fishing) cod. referenced Maximum Sustainable Yield) or the new legal obligations arising from the reformed CFP (EU’s Common Fisheries Policy)?

Unfortunately for us and for the rebuilding of fish stocks, our Minister falls into the category of the majority of the population who have no idea what BMSY is! It’s a tricky concept in any case requiring mathematical formulae to calculate, and if the interested find difficulty in fathoming it, what chance the industry skippers who historically think they have the right to anything that is caught in their nets?

Offering complexity as an excuse for poor decision-making is probably being kind to the Minister. A more accurate version is that his Ministry may be overseeing a corrupt system of quota allocation and fish stock management which, in turn, seems to be complicit in criminal acts. The men from the Ministry have certainly failed the public over CFP Article 17 in the official Journal of the European Union:

“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.”

Transparency and accountability of quota management is the responsibility of government, and it should be reviewing ship activities based on the history of their compliance with the law.

A case in point is the Dutch company Cornelius Vrolijk which operates with 23% of the UK mackerel quota. Who in the Ministry’s quota management team authorised this foreign ownership of our quota?

This quota is collected daily by the super trawler, Frank Bonnefaas, which harvests our seas apparently without subject to any control. Two questions: where is the catch landed, and is its English quota brought into English ports? Somehow I fear that would be too much to expect.

This trawler and the company has recently have been prosecuted for illegal fishing in the SW English waters. The question is, how many other breaches have there been ?

They were found guilty in this instance but the fine they received was pitifully small relative to the sale value of the catch which the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) allowed them to keep! This makes a mockery of the system which Marinet has come to evaluate as being “designed to fail”. The Minister’s behaviour also confirms this to me.

Using Article 17 of the CFP and given its “history of compliance” the company should have had their quota withdrawn by Defra, with the Minister calling in the case paperwork and so demonstrating that he is determined to send a clear message to the industry that his Ministry is serious about reform.

The truth is that neither he nor his Ministry are engaged with what needs to be done in order to deliver the regeneration of fish stocks, and so provide us with fish food security.

If you want to understand the economics about “doing nothing” and why Article 2 of the CFP is also being ignored . . . .

“The CFP shall apply the precautionary approach to fisheries management, and shall aim to ensure that exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield.”

. . . . look at the recent New Economics Foundation publication of 13th March 2015, titled: Managing EU Fisheries in the Public Interest.

This report states that if 221 EU fishing fleets which account for 73% of total EU landings were required to operate to fishing quotas fixed above MSY (Maximum Sustainable Yield, ref. Article 2. cit.) then this would result once stocks had been restored in:

  • 2 million tonnes of additional fish per year, enough to feed 89 million EU citizens.
  • £659 million in additional net profits per year.
  • At least 20,000 new jobs.
  • An increase of £6,600 in additional wages for fisheries workers each year.

This evidence produced by the New Economics Foundation demonstrates how good management — in fact, management that is legally required under the reformed CFP — can recreate prosperity for the EU fishing industry and restore health to EU seas.
And, if we extract the benefits that would accrue to the UK itself under this new management regime this is how these would look:

  • 500,000 tonnes of additional fish per year, enough to feed 26 million British people.
  • £146 million in additional net profits to the industry each year.
  • At least 7,600 new jobs.

The New Economics Foundation further argues that by adopting this “bio-economic model” (maximising economic value by maximising stocks), as well as redistributing quota to fishing vessels which use the most sustainable fishing methods, we would be able to deliver better managed stocks.

In turn, this would be accompanied by more accountability through port controls on catch, more regionalisation, and a spread of catch around the country. This management approach requires placing more emphasis on the value of catch rather than on the volume of the catch and, in particular, recognising the socio-economic advantages of the smaller boats in the delivery of BMSY and food security. In other words, the fishing industry as a whole being responsible for its regeneration.

Instead the Minister and Defra inflict on us, year after year, poor management of fish stocks along with fleet quotas which deliver power to the large trawlers often owned outside of this country.

This poor management continues relentlessly when the evidence clearly tells us that the value of each fish is more when the small-scale fisheries catch the quota and so allows the economics of the industry to be extended into more communities, raising more jobs via the catching, landing and the distribution of the catch. Small-scale fisheries also ensure that the catch is landed regionally and delivers more accountability — which is certainly not achieved when foreign boats are involved.

Our small-scale fisheries currently only have 2% of the quota, and one must ask why is this so, when the Minister has the power to give and to take away?

When the Minister acts outside the law and doesn’t share the quota proportionately and fairly around the country (as he is required to do by Article 17 of the CFP) he is depriving the country of revenue, jobs and socio-economic benefits.

Further, there is also evidence the smaller boats would manage our fish stocks with a greater sense of responsibility — which is another requirement of Article 2 of the CFP. In practical terms, what this means is that these fishermen would be better placed to deliver a precautionary approach and be aware of the role of the eco-system in delivering BMSY.

Is the UK Minister, and his Ministerial associates in the EU, listening?

Their return from Brussels in December, where over 60% of quotas were issued at levels beyond scientific advice, provides clear evidence to the contrary and that the lessons of the past have not been learnt and are being wilfully ignored.

Something is going to have to change.

Reason suggests that the only reasonable outcome is one where those who ignore the law are brought to book. It is time to open the charge sheet.

Authors: David Levy and Stephen Eades, Marinet Limited

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