The Head of Plymouth Fisheries has reacted to news on crunch talks in Brussels this week, when The British Government will be fighting for “softer cuts” to the amount of fish the Westcountry fleet can land.
The reaction follows a report in the Western Morning News this week where Fisheries Minister George Eustice dismissed the “apocalyptic” vision of the industry that some commentators have predicted when new quotas kick in next year.
The Camborne, Redruth and Hayle MP, due to visit Plymouth Fisheries in Spring 2015, is attending the EU Fisheries Council where he plans to argue against proposals for severe landing quota reductions at the fisheries upon which many coastal towns in the region depend. According to the report in the Western Morning News, Monkfish, Megrim and Sole – the most important fish to Devon and Cornwall based on market value – face an annual cut of up to 35%. Haddock, which represents just 5% of the value of fisheries landed in the region, faces a reduction of up to 40%.
Sutton Harbour Master and Head of Plymouth Fisheries, Pete Bromley, has said that his fishermen are feeling concerned and that a reliance on flawed scientific data could hinder the correct decision being made. He also feels that it is imperative that the general public understands that the story is greater than that of just the fishing industry.
He said; “The general public may be of the opinion that quotas do not really affect them and it's just a fishing problem but the full social and economic impact of bankrupting the fishing industry is very far reaching. In Plymouth alone there are over 600 people directly employed as a result of fishermen catching fish, the wider ancillary and support industries count for many more jobs and the smaller coastal communities around Devon and Cornwall have an even greater dependence on fishing. Force fishermen into bankruptcy or out of the industry and you will lose a way of life which defines the South West, a way of life which has brought tourists to the area in their millions helping to support the regional economy. Like it or not fishing touches more lives than many people realise”.
The report in the Western Morning News pointed out that ‘commercial fisheries in North Devon are already reeling from the early closure of skate and ray landings this year, which has resulted in jobs being lost and boats being tied up.’
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations says if the “staggering” quota proposals are accepted by the Council of EU Ministers then “the kind of casualties seen in the Bristol Channel this year will be experienced by many other inshore fleets in 2015”. NFFO Chief Executive, Barrie Deas argued in their report http://nffo.org.uk/news/bbc-today-programme-ministers-must-put-fishing-businesses-and-livelihoods-ahead-of-msy-dogma-nffo.html that; ‘there is no crisis in fish stocks in our waters that would justify anything like the 60% quota cuts proposed for some of our most important quotas. The science is quite clear. Since 2000, there has been a dramatic (in the region of 50%) reduction in fishing pressure for all the main species groups, right across the north East Atlantic. As a result, stocks are rebuilding, some rapidly, some more slowly, due to local circumstances and recruitment patterns’.
Mr Eustice insisted in his conversation with The Western Morning News that there was ‘still latitude to lessen the blow’. He said the British Government would present fresh evidence to the fisheries commissioner demonstrating that stocks are healthier than previously thought. He said: “I think we will be able to get a better deal for Westcountry fleets than has been proposed. We have been working on more refined and recent science. We think we have got the evidence to justify softer cuts and we will be pushing for that to happen.”
Pete Bromley said; “Whilst I do understand that the negotiations are still on-going with regards to setting the quotas for the coming year and nothing is yet set in stone, every fisherman in the South West must be worried by the proposed cuts to some of the major species which the industry rely upon for survival.”
Mr Eustice insisted he would be pushing for quota to be the same level as this year in many cases. He said: “There have been some apocalyptic predictions. We don’t accept that. I don’t think the cuts are going to be as damaging as people are saying.”
Pete Bromley added; “We are back to the age old problem of quota levels being set too low usually because of flawed, inaccurate or insufficient scientific data. There comes a point where fishermen will go out of business if they are not allowed to catch enough fish to pay the bills and pay crew that’s just simple economics.”
The minister conceded the handling of ray and skate quota had caused “anxiety, frustration and anger” this year, but insisted the principle of “sustainable” fishing was right. He said: “If there had been restrictions in the summer there would have been complaints we were then sending fishermen out in winter storms. The MMO agree there are lessons to be learned but we have to recognise that we must get the balance right.”
He added: “If we are going to have a fishing industry in the future we have to be fishing sustainably. So I will not be ditching the science.”
But the Head of Plymouth Fisheries, Pete Bromley has commented; “The real injustice comes when there is an acceptance by the decision makers that the scientific evidence and knowledge of stock levels is insufficient to make an accurate assessment but cuts are still made to quotas as a precautionary approach to stock management.”
“We have witnessed the hardship that quota restrictions can cause. One of the main aims of the common fisheries policy reform is to reduce the appalling waste caused by discarding fish, which have been caught but can't be landed because of lack of quota. Reduce quotas further and you compound this problem. We can only hope and pray that the council of ministers understand the huge sacrifices that the industry has already made and allocate enough fish to keep the industry viable.”