Nutfa First Thoughts - Defra Consultation Response:
The New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (Nutfa) maintains its fundamental disagreement with the Defra rights based approach to both current and potential future allocation and management of quota on the basis that the under ten metre fleet has been disenfranchised ever since the inception of the present system whereby it receives only a very small percentage of the quota available to the UK fleet overall, and certainly not sufficient to maintain a reasonable income or business for the vast majority of inshore vessels reliant to any extent on quota species.
In addition, the proposals remain predicated on the use of Registration of Buyers and Sellers (RBS) data, (and appear to be the only EU Member State to do so) for which Defra have constantly refused to indicate their confidence level and which is generally considered by most informed commentators to be a poor reflection on actual landings, based as it is on third party reporting. (this despite this specific failing having been made clear to them during the RBS consultation phase).
At the same time, numerous fishermen didn’t provide responses to many of the questions asked as they had already rejected the central plank of the proposals, for a rights based system based on individual track records during the RBS based reference period. It is worth remembering that some quotas were, and remain so low that fishers either did not consider it economically worthwhile to go to sea to catch just a few kilos or that many refused to be forced to discard very significant quantities of fish in order to retain the measly few covered by an inadequate quota allocation, thereby even further reducing their track record.
Defra have turned down suggestions for a reference period that more clearly and fairly reflects the genuine and historical catches of under tens on the basis of a lack of verifiable data. We would suggest that the current system also fails in this respect and that the numerous offers from fishermen to provide receipts and audited accounts, together with auction information, and the results from the stratified sampling of catches carried out during the same time period used to determine over ten metre entitlements should be at least considered. If nothing else, this process would at least illustrate the basic dichotomy between the sum of the declared catches of the overall UK fleet at that time and the overall UK allocation that effectively left such a tiny percentage for the inshore fleet.
We urge all under ten metre fishers to ensure that they are fully cognisant of the implications and potential effects on their individual businesses, in both the short and long term, before committing to the community group approach.
We are particularly disappointed at the lack of detail provided on which fishers can make a decision to participate in the community quota groups or otherwise.
There are a number of issues where clarity is vital and although Defra may think that many of these points can and will be resolved after the groups are up and running, we consider it vital for fishers to understand the implications of involvement and the potential outcomes for both themselves and the wider fleet before ostensibly supporting the proposals through participation.
A key element discussed during the consultation period was in relation to a valid appeals procedure. Without regurgitating all the detail debated, any pilot must by definition be based on the final future framework wherever possible. We remain concerned that due largely to the significant numbers of under ten metre vessels bought, sold, built, replaced etc during the reference period, there will be a high level of genuine appeals that will require the provision of a “nominal” quota to successful applicants. This fish, by Defra’s own admission can only come from within the existing pool and this needs to be reflected in the determination of FQA’s to community groups. To ignore this element would be to give fishermen a false idea of their final allocations, post pilot schemes. We are concerned that the main comment within the Defra response states only that they have “taken note” of the numerous calls for a fair appeals procedure. We consider that at this stage of the debate, Defra should be in a position to more clearly describe their approach in this respect.
In a similar vein, during the consultation period, UKAFPO informed Defra, without either party feeling the need to inform the under ten sector, that they would refuse to participate in any further gifts or swaps of quota for the benefit of the under tens whilst Defra was actively considering a reallocation of resources. Whilst Defra say that they will undertake a temporary top slice of quota to ‘support’ the formation ofCommunity Groups, we need to be clear as to UKAFPO’s response to that initiative, as well of course of a more permanent reallocation. It is of little worth for us to collectively spend the next two years undertaking a trial in the event that much of it will not translate into the real world.
Defra has constantly baulked at reallocating quota in year in keeping with their own rules of management (section 15) and provided only a weak rationale as to why. The current Minister has stated unequivocally that quota is public property and we consider that a more proactive stance is now both opportune and timely.
We also note in this context that individual FQA’s will be based on opening allocations to the under ten pool and we harbour concerns that this level of allocation has in many cases been entirely inappropriate for our needs. Inshore vessels have only just survived with the addition of quota from other sources and it is vital that there is both clarity and continuation of supplements in this respect. (NS Sole provides a clear example where the opening allocation for the under ten pool is only a third of what the inshore fleet has traditionally been able to access through gifts and swaps)
In relation to timescales and bearing in mind the dire straits that the under ten sector currently finds itself in, many vessels will not survive until ‘2014 at the earliest’ and Defra must provide real and genuine support to all concerned, not only those potentially forced to enter into community schemes more out of desperation than with any particular support for the idea, but across the whole fleet. If nothing else, this would ensure that Defra is not suspected of discriminating in favour of community groups at the expense of the wider fleet in an attempt to ‘encourage’ fisher’s enthusiasm for the scheme.
We note that unlike the original proposals, in the event that the PO’s will not volunteer quota for the pilot projects, it will come from a temporary top slice based on species for which the TAC’s will increase in 2012. This approach gives little confidence in Defra’s ability to reallocate quota on a permanent basis from the PO’s to the under tens, not least as the range of species for reallocation within the original proposals was significantly more than is likely to be the case for the pilot criteria. It is already a fact that some species originally identified for realignment have also disappeared from the current list, not a reassuring start or grounds for much confidence in the final design.
Similarly, the original Impact Assessment in support of the proposals looked at a reallocation of the important species of between 0.5% and 5%, settling on 3%. This assessment was based on the removal of the 129 high catching vessels, deemed to be those that took their entire monthly pool allocation on a regular basis. Defra have now decided not to remove these vessels from the pool and we therefore assume, and have previously raised it with Defra in writing, that the 3% will need to be increased to provide similar improvements for these vessels as has been recognised as necessary for the vessels that were going to left in the pool in the first place. Defra’s response fails to address a central issue raised around the coast in relation to the implementation of a rights based system and the pilot schemes equally fail to recognise and resolve it. One clear example in this respect is that of Area VIIe Haddock.
There is no history, and therefore track record for this species during the reference period for under tens in this area but in recent times the species has made an appearance in good numbers in the inshore zone. As it stands, no under ten vessel has a track record for this fish and therefore would receive no FQA’s and no access to the species. This would mean that either fishers would be forced to discard significant quantities, caught mainly by static gears or be forced to lease quota from larger operators. Either option is equally iniquitous and unacceptable in the short or long term.
Defra’s response does mention, albeit briefly, the relationship with the EU Commission proposals for the reform of the CFP but fails to adequately inform readers as to how they intend to respond and interact to the idea of mandatory transferable fishing concessions and other initiatives in relation to their own proposals.
With regard to the specifics of community quota groups, Defra have not provided even outline criteria for the pilot schemes and they must address this without delay in order to provide fishers with more clarity, before they have to sign up within the time period of only a couple of weeks.
There are any number of points for clarification but who decides group membership, the process of determining group FQA’s in light of points made previously, the consequences of and responsibility for any transgressions and whether they will they be individual or collective, recording and reporting procedures and how genuinely will the pilots reflect likely future threats or opportunities will be some where information is needed before any fisher can sign up with any confidence.
During the consultation, Defra highlighted the ostensible benefits of a similar rights based system previously implemented in Denmark and the benefits it provided to the fleet. Despite Nutfa having previously provided officials with an alternative report produced by small scale representatives and academics in Denmark, suggesting that in fact the opposite was true and that many small scale operators and coastal communities had suffered because of the scheme, the Defra response continues this fallacy.
There are numerous global examples illustrating that a rights based system, without very rigid safeguards will undoubtedly and quickly result in the loss of quota from the inshore sector. Defra’s offer of a temporary one way valve is therefore pointless. At the same time, the proposals lack any reference to protection from aggregation of quota within the sector, an event that can be equally dangerous to the long term survival of independent operators and coastal communities.
It is in fact only Nutfa’s proposals for a dedicated inshore “PO”, ring fencing and protecting inshore quota that addresses these vital issues. On this point, whilst we are content that Defra are committed toproviding the same level of support for this initiative as their own studies, they have misunderstood the support for this to be ‘more popular in areas where working relationships between fishermen were better’. This is fundamentally not the case and support was spread across areas, irrespective of relationships between fishers. In fact an inshore PO would go a long way towards removing existing antagonisms. Where there were suggested relationship problems was clearly for Community Groups in many areas where there was clear antipathy between under ten operators and PO’s and where Defra had suggested a possibly increased interaction between the two.
The response also fails to adequately describe the design and level of transparency of the “FQA Register” or what they intend to do with regard to ensuring that quota is held only by working fishermen. There is an equal lack of information on Defra’s plans to deal with both dormant and latent capacity within the fleet, in either fish or shell fisheries.
In summary, we harbour significant concerns in regard to both the foundation for the Defra proposals, not least those to do with allocation methods, as well as the lack of clear detail or criteria for the community quota groups.
Much of what we have noted is equally applicable to shellfishers and we maintain our view that Defra failed to adequately inform shellfishers of the potential importance of the consultation, resulting in any number of them missing the opportunity to comment.
Equally, Defra have maintained their poor treatment of non sector operators within the response and need to address this sub sector with considerably more support and understanding than is currently the case.
It is interesting to note that the response states that attendees at the roadshows expressed less of an appetite for Community Quota groups than those who did not come. This perhaps illustrates the fact that attendees had the opportunity to clarify elements of the groups and the resulting understanding generated a more cautious approach than those less well informed and to whom the basic principles may seem more superficially attractive.
Defra suggest that of the written responses received, the large proportion that were in favour of the proposals, all came from under ten metre fishermen. They go on to suggest that the negative responses from PO’s who represent large numbers of over ten metre vessels sway the balance of positive and negative responses. We would suggest that this is attempting to compare apples and pears as the under ten response from the one organisation with a voluntary membership, i.e. Nutfa (PO membership, although ostensibly voluntary, is in reality effectively obligatory for quota management purposes) carries the weight of not only its actual active membership, which is at least on par with other representative organisations, but also undoubtedly reflects the view of the silent majority of the under ten fleet that makes up 75% by number of fishers overall. With regard to the marketing elements of the Community Quota Groups, we remain concerned that whilst one aspiration of the proposals is to remove arbitrary divides within the fleet, there is a real danger of setting group against group, driving prices down, not up as should be the case.
In conclusion, we recognise that Defra are set on pursuing their ideas relating to community group pilots and urge them to move forward without delay bearing in mind the increasingly difficult situation facing inshore fishers who both need and deserve clear information, whether within or outwith the schemes, so that they can make informed business and life decisions. We consider it entirely reasonable to require clarity with regard to every aspect but especially in terms of an appeals procedure, how they intend to deal with perceived capacity issues and the criteria for the quota groups. It is equally valid to demand that Defra provide benefits, identified as entirely necessary for the survival of the inshore fleet, to all, not just those who decide to join the Community groups. And finally, irrespective of their seemingly single minded pursuit of a rights based system for inshore vessels, Defra must provide an unequivocal and considered response to the mounting calls for a review of the legality of quota “ownership” and therefore the way that it has been allocated.
Where Next For Under 10’s?
CFP Reform, a new Minister, Marine Protected Areas and much of the coast closed down amidst the continuing debate on access to fish; with so many potential opportunities and current threats, will there still be a viable under 10 metre fleet in the near future?
The ongoing reform process for the Common Fisheries Policy, with its clear recognition of the importance of small scale fleets across Europe and the need to protect them may seem remote from the realities of trying to earn a daily living with no quota and no savings to keep boats going but if the new CFP continues the current madness then there will be no hope for the future, even if under tens can survive the present. This was one of the messages that the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (Nutfa) took to Brussels during a recent meeting with the Fisheries Commissioner, Ms Damanaki and her senior staff. During the meeting, the Commissioner said, “We really believe, based on scientific information, that small-scale fisheries are more sustainable and have a lower environmental footprint. Small-scale fisheries are also much more friendly to employment, and this is a key issue. We also recognize that small-scale fisheries are very important for the survival of coastal communities, for their identity, culture, history and way of life.”
She also highlighted the need for effective representation commenting, “It is our duty to have a better structure to represent small scale fisheries. They have weaker structures, and we need to make a level playing field with the bigger players”.
Jerry Percy, policy advisor to Nutfa told Fishing News, “probably the most frustrating aspect of representing the under ten fleet in Europe is that some of the larger scale fleet representatives seem to think that the whole thing is an either or and work hard to undermine any potential benefit of the CFP in favour of small scale. I wish they’d recognise that we have just as much right as them to a fair deal and many small scale related aspects of the reform process don’t necessarily mean they will lose out. Despite a recent surge in membership, Nutfa is still a relatively small organisation with very limited resources but is the only effective representation within the process and works hard and asks no reward for trying to get a fair deal for the under ten fleet. The big fleet guys have all the aces, a permanent presence in Brussels and massive resources to lobby the Commission and Parliament with. Even the Commissioner has recognised that Nutfa and the fishermen it represents are seriously disadvantaged. Fight for your own corner by all means but don’t tread on us to get there”.
He continued, “some Member States are obviously concerned about Commission suggestions for a specific differentiated management regime for small scale fishers being imposed on them. Nutfa are intent on ensuring that the recognised benefits of the under ten fleet in the UK are taken into consideration post 2012, however that comes about. We seem to be pushing at an open door with the Commission, European Parliament and the UK Government all expressing apparent support for this sector of the fleet, let’s hope that they are genuine”.
Nutfa have also been busy in the UK with a recent meeting with the new Minister, Richard Benyon, tabling a number of suggestions for future management of the under tens, especially with regard to access to fishing opportunities. Dave Cuthbert, Co-Chairman of Nutfa made some straightforward points to the Minister, highlighting the facts that whilst about 76% of the UK fleet is under 10 metres, they have access to only 4% of the quota. Recognising that it had been previous Government officials who had put the under tens into this position with their mismanagement of the allocation of fishing rights, Dave stressed the need for the Minister to finally and fairly address this central issue if the sector was going to be viable in the future. He pointed out that quota was not just in the hands of the over ten fleet fishermen but that thousands of tons of quota remained uncaught in every year, that the fish leased to under tens by PO’s should in fact be reallocated on the basis that the PO’s obviously didn’t need it and that quota traders held massive amounts of fish that was out of reach of most small fishermen and was effectively holding their birthright to ransom.
When you put all these amounts together then there was plenty of fish in the system that could and should be reallocated more equitably. He said with all this fish that there was little wonder that Spain and others were shouting for a use it or lose it approach and this fish should remain in the UK for the benefit of the under ten sector, not be redirected to other EU countries.
Dave said, “with the current under ten crisis already affecting the east and parts of the south coast, we all need to get round the table urgently and find a solution, irrespective of vessel size. Everyone knows how and why the present CFP and past Government mistakes have bought us to the edge of disaster, it will need the efforts of all sector representatives and the new Minister combined to sort out this mess, but sort it out we must if there is going to be any light at the end of the tunnel. We have got to be honest and admit that the under tens just simply do not have enough of the cake to make a living. It’s not easy for anyone, including the big boats, but swapping away fish that could have kept under tens going is not acceptable. Having 200 + boats effectively tied up along the east coast despite reports of excellent Skate stocks is just a nonsense. I get calls from fishermen with similar stories all round. On the west coast, from Scotland down to Cornwall, boats are reporting big shoals of Spurdog, watching angling boats catch hundreds of fish whilst commercial boats are forced to throw everything back. Surely a limited fishery, based on hand baiting could be allowed for inshore guys, it could make the difference between survival and losing boats that will never return”?
Nutfa is due to have a meeting with the Minister, NFFO and the PO’s in early August to attempt to get things moving.
There are any number of other problems and challenges on the table that will seriously affect the ability of an under ten boat to be viable. Many under tens have been forced to move into shellfish and non quota species to make a living and many of these vessels then had their licences capped by Defra in England. At the same time there seems little doubt that recommendations for effort control within the shellfish fleet will soon be tabled by Defra although the industry based UK & Irleand Crab Management Group have already made significant, albeit voluntary recommendations in this area.
With little quota, increasing amounts of sea areas being taken over by renewables and the seemingly unstoppable march of marine protected areas around the coast, mainly to be located in close inshore areas, it is little wonder that inshore fishermen are at their wits end.
At the same time, there is an increasing worry that with the dire economic situation facing the country, Treasury officials will be looking hungrily at the fuel element of both fisheries and agriculture and the potential for tax making and saving.
Nutfa continues to make it clear that any attack on fuel costs will result in the effective overnight destruction of the fleet, both large and small. Jerry Percy said, “what is so often forgotten is that fishermen are primary wealth producers, we don’t just circulate what has already been made, we create it from a renewable resource. Fishermen are the bottom line and the under ten fleet in the UK supports well over half of full time employment across the industry, employing local fishermen, supporting local communities and providing the finest and freshest fish you can get. I’m fed up hearing that just because Government officials made such a cock up of quota in the first place, a cock up that everyone admits was wrong, that this injustice should continue without question. The EU Commissioner and our own Minister rightly recognise the vital importance of this sector to the country and all Nutfa is fighting for is for these officials to turn their rhetoric into reality and to provide the tools that we need to survive. There are solutions but all concerned have to recognise that access to fish is about more than just who has the deepest pockets ”.
Nutfa is also meeting with Defra officials shortly to discuss the ability of the under ten fleet to set up a PO. Whilst it recognises that there is little point in having a PO if you have no fish to manage, the combination of both EU and UK official comments on the allocation of fish has encouraged Nutfa to pursue the issue as a basis for future proofing the sector in the event that the current situation alters. The EU Fisheries Commissioner was clear at the recent meeting with Nutfa that the discussion regarding ITQ’s would be focussed on consideration only at Member State level, she said, “I am not talking about privatisation, I am not talking about ownership rights, but about giving user rights for ten years, after which this right returns to the state”. Nutfa continues to make clear their reservations about the introduction of ITQ’s, not least for the threat they pose to inshore fishermen without the resources enjoyed by many offshore operators. Experiences in other countries have shown the danger that such a system can represent to small scale fishermen, often resulting in a complete loss of quota from the inshore sector. At the same time, it was leaving no stone unturned and the discussions with Defra on a Producer Organisation were happening in the light of clear messages from Government that they were intent on dealing with what the Minister has described as the biggest challenge facing him and his great commitment to finally sorting the situation out.
Jerry Percy said, following the round of recent meetings, “we must all remember that we are arguing from within the asylum and that unless we get a root and branch reform of the CFP, we are all doomed, irrespective of sector. From a UK perspective, the new Minister has, for probably the first time, the ability to speak directly with the likes of Nutfa as well as with representatives of the over 10 sector. He has the opportunity to really make a difference in both the short and long terms and we welcome his promises in this respect. It will be up to under ten fishermen to make their views known so that Nutfa can clearly reflect them to the Government and others. Believe me, this is the end game for the under tens, irrespective of whether you fish quota, non quota or shellfish. Nutfa doesn’t have the massive resources of other organisations but does have the commitment to fight to the finish for the interests of under ten fishermen but it is down to individuals to support the organisation if they want to make their voice heard and have any chance of a viable future.