Anyone having got this far on the website will probably already know that european fisheries management is a dogs breakfast of top down micro management from Europe, based on a discredited Common Fisheries Policy that has resulted in the demise of fish stocks, boats and men over the thirty odd years that it has been manifestly failing to provide any semblance of sustainable management for either fish or fishers in european waters. In the UK, we've had the dubious benefit of a management model that has been little better, especially if you fish a boat of under ten metres in length.
Before even the introduction of quota allocation and management and despite begging fishery managers to record catches from this sector of the fleet (as they do for catches by vessels over ten metres), they resolutely refused to do so, assuring fishermen that there was no need to worry.
In circa 2005, Defra then introduced the Registration of Buyers and Sellers legislation, (based on european legislation but with precious little evidence that any one else in Europe was actually taking any notice of it - now there's a surprise) requiring all sales of fish to be notified to the authorities - and lo and behold, this illustrated that under tens actually catch significant amounts of fish BUT as the allocation of quota had already been decided, based on the track record of only over tens, in the mid 90's, there was almost nothing left in the pot for the under ten fleet.
In addition, the over ten sector is actually allowed to hold their own quota (some would say "own) and have it managed on their behalf by Producer Organisations, initially funded by european funds, whose main purpose was originally based on marketing and the payment of withdrawal prices, a price support mechanism, but now acting primarily as quota managers.
In comparison, the measly 4%, yes 4% of the UK quota that was left over for the under ten fleet is now managed, not by small scale fishermen themselves, but by the Marine Management Organisation, based in Newcastle, on their behalf, making this sector of the fleet (that makes up 75% of the active fleet in England), nothing more than spectators of their own destiny.
So between the CFP slashing Total Allowable Catches year on year, i.e. the whole cake getting smaller, and the two slices that make up that whole cake of UK quota, 96% for the over tens and 4% for the under tens, any under ten vessel seeking to make a living by depending entirely on quota stocks is likely to be disappointed as the available fish is simply not sufficient to maintain a living.
Four years ago, Defra gave under tens the short term option, for one year only, to lease fish from the Producer Organisations, whilst they "sorted out the imbalance in the system for under tens" and four years on, the system is still in operation and we appear to be only a little nearer to getting anything sorted out.
This approach has had both intended and unintended consequences. It has allowed the 'super under tens' to maintain operations by leasing in fish from the PO's (whereas many believe that the majority of these vessels are nothing more than over tens in disguise and should not be working in the small scale sector in the first place), It has encouraged PO's to lease, rather than share their fish with the under ten sector (and make a significant amount of money in the meantime) and this in turn has encouraged the PO's to hold onto fish to the end of the year and let it go to waste, rather than have it utilised by their smaller brethren.
NUTFA members take the view that the current allocation of quota is both unfair and unjust, a view also held by many representatives of the over ten fleet around the UK. The only difference being that whilst they are happy with their lot, under tens consider themselves to have been disenfranchised in the process and that there should be a reallocation, based on more than just historic rights of those allowed to participate in the quota club and who has the deepest pockets.
The latter point has come about because successive Governments have effectively ceded quota management to the PO's and access to fish has now become almost entirely a property, rather than a user right, with quota being traded as just another commodity, despite the fact that many small scale fishermen, and the coastal communities that they support, are dependent on it to maintain their livelihoods.
Let's be clear, NUTFA believe that the current leasing arrangements are both immoral and divisive, forcing small scale fishermen to choose between having to lease quota at great expense from the PO's, and due to their generally small size, often only being able to utilise around half of it due to weather and tides, or diversify into the already full shellfish sector or rely on the diminishing number of non quota finfish species available (or of course go bust)
Apart from the social and economic cost of this system, it forces small scale fishers, recognised as generally fishing more sustainably than their larger colleagues, to have to discard prime fish for no other reason than they do not have the same access to quota to allow them to land it as do the big boys. Make no mistake, this dumping is often not because the UK has no quota for the species, it is because the PO's have quota that they do not utilise year after year after year but will even then not share it with colleagues working smaller vessels.
NUTFA is fighting hard at both national and EU level to have this worthless and destructive system replaced with an altogether fairer and more just method of allocation.
It is also worth mentioning that on an annual basis something in the region of 14000 tons of quota species are left unfished by the over tens year on year, that the fish quota that the PO's lease to the under tens, quota that was originally given to the over ten sector free of charge, is obviously surplus to their requirements, and that a very significant and increasing amount of fish is in the hands of quota traders, people who should not have the right to use a public resource as private property and hold hard working small scale fishermen to ransom.