Wednesday, 23 March 2011 11:43

THE Fishermen’s Association Limited recently met with UK Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon to discuss a range of issues affecting their members.

Sandy Patience, FAL’s Chairman, acknowledged the effort that Mr Benyon and his officials had made at the 2010 December Fish Council given all that was stacked against the UK in having to meet the maximum sustainable yield commitments of the Johannesburg Agreement.

However he reminded the Minister that it was the Tory administration in 1972 which had surrendered our national fish stocks to the EU to be managed under a Common Fisheries Policy, which to date, as far as British fishermen are concerned has been nothing short of a disaster.

He urged the Minister to persuade the Prime Minster to visit fishing constituencies and hear from the grass roots of the hard working people who make up the industry and then give the same commitment as Mrs Thatcher did to defend British fishing rights when she was Prime Minister.

However Mr Patience reminded Mr Benyon that the real Common Fisheries Policy – the principle of equal access to the common resource cannot be reformed and with 2012 rapidly approaching and therefore the end of the present derogation, the Commission must necessarily introduce measures upon our fishermen, in readiness for the implementation of the full thrust of that principle as demanded by the Treaties.

Reflecting on the meeting Mr Patience said: “At the Tory Spring conference the Prime Minister told us to roll up our sleeve and invest in business. We have been doing so for many years done through commitment and investment.

“It has been done even in the face of an extremely uncertain future. But that continuing uncertainty, the unbearable and immoral pressures of the EU fisheries policy, has sapped the confidence of many in the Industry both offshore and onshore.

“Whereas the UK Government may be committed to delivering a new EU fisheries policy that delivers sustainability for our fishing industry, our fisheries dependent communities and our marine environment ,the only way for the UK to be at the heart of real decision making and management of UK fisheries is withdrawal from the real CFP of equal access to the common resource.”

Other points discussed during the meeting included:

  • A recognition that the discards issue was not as black and white as portrayed in the media coverage of the ‘fishfight campaign’ and that more measured consideration of the complex issues involving the catching sector was essential.
  • The impact of automatic successive effort cuts in the Cod Recovery Plan were recognised and an assurance was obtained that these would be opposed.
  • The economic impact on the viability of fishing businesses due to effects of the west of Scotland restrictive fishing measures - the current 30% limit on catch composition covering cod, haddock and whiting - and it was pointed out that this measure, apart from having the unintended consequence of increased discards as a result of attempting to remain within the 30% limit, was also unsettling young men who were finding it difficult to see a future in the current circumstances not helped by the fuel price escalation. It was welcomed that the Minister would be having a conference call that afternoon with the Commission to keep up the pressure for change.
  • The major reduction in onshore support businesses impacting on the sustainability of fishing communities was strongly highlighted with the Minister recognising that providing support for the industry’s infrastructure was a key issue that had to be tackled.
  • The lack of confidence in the Marine Protected Area consultation process being managed by Natural England and JNCC was forcefully highlighted. The fishing industry stakeholder group was not being given due regard in preference to the environmental lobby. DEFRA officials were aware of these problems and were taking steps to ensure that the industry views were given proper weight.
  • As for the current Coastguard consultation while it was appreciated that this was not the Minister’s direct remit he was urged to impress on his Ministerial colleague, Mike Penning not to compromise on safety in the reorganisation and restructure of the Coastguard.
The meeting was informed that it was vital that the UK government actively supports the fishing industry as it develops the appropriate career paths and training opportunities, so that we maintain future generations of UK fishermen. As Seafish plays a key role in this regard, the UK government should stand behind Seafish irrespective of the Supreme Court’s judgment, following the hearing on 22/23 March.


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