Fishermen in the South West may still be forced out of the industry despite the Government securing what it claimed was a “fair deal” at European talks to agree new quotas, Plymouth Fisheries manager Pete Bromley warns.
Industry expert Pete, who manages England’s second largest fresh fish market in Plymouth’s Sutton Harbour, said that whilst the outcome of the EU council meeting was not as devastating as initially feared, the long-term impact of the new deal would still have far-reaching negative effects.
The EU Fisheries and Agriculture Council meeting ended late on Tuesday night (Dec 16th) with the British Government having secured the same quota as last year for many species, including monkfish, megrim and pollock in the South West, as well as skates and rays around the UK.
Cuts were agreed to other quotas however, with a 10 per cent reduction to channel-caught plaice and sole, and the loss of 26 per cent of cod, 14 per cent whiting and 12 per cent haddock – all pelagic fish regularly caught and landed at ports in Devon and Cornwall. Much of this fish being caught by Westcountry fishermen will now be dumped at sea in order for fishermen to meet the reduced quotas.
Pete Bromley, Manager of Plymouth Fisheries and Harbour Master of Sutton Harbour, said: “The new quotas are the best result for the South West fishing industry that we could have hoped for from what is now accepted to be a bad management system, and admittedly not the disaster we first feared. But whilst they may not herald the demise of the industry entirely, they will still increase the pressure on fishermen already struggling to operate viable businesses.
“Maintaining the quota of some species at the same level as last year might be seen as a ‘win’ but the operating costs of fishing vessels in the coming year doesn’t stay the same; costs like fuel and fishing nets inevitably increase. Therefore simple economics means once again, fishermen will be worse off – and in some cases, possibly forced out of the industry or face having to reduce the number of their crew to stay viable.
“Quotas are still continually being set too low, often because of flawed, inaccurate or insufficient scientific data, but there comes a point where fishermen will go out of business if they are not allowed to catch enough fish to pay the bills.”
Pete stressed the vital importance of supporting the fishing industry to sustain jobs across the South West.
“People may think fishing quotas don’t affect them but the impact on the fishing industry is far reaching – in Plymouth alone there are more than 600 people directly employed as a result of fishermen catching fish, and the wider support industries around that count for many more jobs, while smaller coastal communities in Devon and Cornwall have an even greater dependence on fishing,” he added.
Pete, a fishermen himself for more than 20 years before he was appointed manager of Plymouth Fisheries, said reforms under the Common Fisheries Policy will change the system from next year but that he had hoped the EU council would recognise the need to match quotas to existing data on the amount of fish being discarded.
Pete Bromley said: “The discard ban on demersal species is due to come into force in just 12 months, and there is a general acceptance that landing figures bear little resemblance to the quantity of fish actually being caught. I was therefore hoping the Council of Ministers would take this opportunity to uplift quotas in line with the existing data on discards but this hasn’t been the case, and the dumping at sea of good fish will now continue, to no one’s advantage.
“A huge effort has been made by fishermen over the past years to protect stocks by refining their gear to improve selectivity and the pain that the industry as a whole has suffered through fleet reduction and the restriction of the day at sea should be recognised and rewarded by allowing fishermen to ply their trade efficiently and catch enough fish.”
Last year, Plymouth had the second highest quantity of landings in England, with 11,600 tonnes of fish including shellfish landed, with a value of £13.5million.
Fish landed at many other South West ports is regularly transported to be sold through Plymouth Fisheries because the market is unique in the region by offering an electronic auction system, operated by Plymouth Trawler Agents, which ensures fishermen receive a fair price for their catch.
Plymouth Fisheries sells more than 6,000 tonnes of fish every year – of which 75 per cent arrives by road – and is viewed by many as the fisheries hub of the region, sustaining over 600 direct and indirect jobs.