An Industry United In Opinion.
Right across our country many people have already made their minds up of how they will vote in the upcoming EU referendum.
However a large proportion of the population have yet to decide, and it’s very easy to understand why so many are undecided. The undecided camp consists of very many people from all walks of life who work in all areas of our economy, they have to listen to the many arguments put forward by the remain or leave camp that directly counter each other leaving many people wondering (Where is the example of what being fully run by the EU looks like).
There is an industry that for the past 30 or more years has been totally reliant on the EU for its laws on exactly how it is to be managed and determines exactly what each country can do, This Industry is our industry, the great British Fishing In Industry.
I still say the Great British Fishing Industry as it is to us British Fisherman, we are a diverse and pioneering group of mainly family based fishing business who venture out in the seas around our coastline to bring home our catches of the freshest, tastiest fish in the world. We are lucky that with the UK being an island race, we have access to some of the most productive fishing grounds in the world and definitely the most productive in the EU.
The UK waters are the largest and most productive waters within the EU for fish, however when it comes to fishing these are not British waters, British fisherman do not even make up the majority of the fisherman, even in what would be our own waters, far from it in fact.
Also for the past 3 decades we have seen our waters the most productive within the EU become an example of how not to run a fishery.
How is this you may ask?
Well we have to go back to the beginning, for the UK to gain access to what was the common market (on the second time of asking the French). We had to give up control of our waters for fisheries and this was to be run from the EU. Enshrined in what became the first CFP (common Fisheries Policy) was the setting up of what level of access countries had to our waters and what subsequently became EU waters, this level of access is laid down in treaties under the terms of relative shares for members states, this simply outlines what amount of share of the fish stocks individual members of the EU have.
The CFP is also the overarching law for all of the laws for fishing for its capture and subsequent sale, and this policy is directly responsible for the success of a fishery or indeed its failure. For all of my 26years in fishing I have had to work under the rules set out within the CFP. I can only give you a glimpse into the world of trying to manage our family fishing business in the backdrop of the madness that is the CFP.
We work our vessel Crystal Sea out of Newlyn in Cornwall. Like most fishing communities Newlyn has seen a huge decline in its fleet over the last few decades that we have been under full EU control, it will have been said that this was due to overfishing which is true.
However the decline came about under EU control as they added fleets and paid for this to happen right through the 1970’s and 80’s they increased the catching power of the EU fleets dramatically, then in the 1990’s when they realized this was causing huge problems to the stocks they started to reduce the fleets, however they reduced the fleets to what it should have been under the rules of relative stability, and for the UK this meant that our fleet shrunk by the largest volume as we were the ones who had given up the most.
In our area where we fish the western approaches to the English Channel this area is under EU law managed as area 7, area 7 includes the Irish, Celtic seas and the English Channel. This is a very large are that the UK has well over 60% of the original territorial waters within it.
However when this comes down to relative shares within the EU, the UK in my area only has access to 20% of the in these waters, the Irish have just a bit more than the UK however the French (yes the one’s we had to ask to join the EU) have just under 60% of the shares of the catches within these waters.
So in my time as a fisherman I have seen the UK fleets shrink to match this very small share, and as a fisherman I work alongside mainly French, Irish, Belgium and Spanish fisherman, and it far less common for me to see my own countryman fishing alongside, and I mainly work between 6 to 100miles of our coastline well within what would have been the UK 200 nautical mile territorial limits.
With the UK’s small relative share of the fishery it makes it very difficult to sustain all of the fishing communities around our coastline, indeed many once traditional fishing communities have completely lost their fisherman as they now have no quota to catch any fish. This has huge knock on effects by means of maintaining the harbors and the loss of meaning to the community also the impact it has on tourism who wants to see empty harbours.
Also with the already small shares we have to fish with, we also have historical anomalies, one of these is our huge haddock fishery which is to be found exclusively in UK waters, and ironically we only started seeing haddock in our catches in any numbers in the last 15years. However the track record of the ownership by member states for this species dates back to the 1970’s and 80’s and it is shared out even worse than our total share. For haddocks the UK has access to 9% of the TAC (total allowable catch) Ireland has 20% France has over 60%, the rest is divided up amongst the other states, the same is true for cod.
As you can imagine trying to balance our catches with our most abundant species being less than half of what we need is impossible, and this creates the total waste many people have seen on TV documentaries which is the wasteful practice of discards, which we as fisherman get the blame for.
Actually fisherman take all the blame for the terrible wasteful practices we see, especially British fisherman. This is totally unfair as the British fisherman are widely known in the world and across the EU as the most proactive and conservation minded fisherman, we all too often lead the way within the EU on how to tackle the issues of our time, through technical and particle conservation practices.
The sad fact is the Wasteful practices are created directly by the EU, in the laws they send down to fisherman (however they would never take responsibility for this).
We have firsthand experience of this ourselves, we as a business with the help of the MMO marine management organization (UK arm of EU enforcement for fisheries.) used CCTV to monitor our catches and came up with some very good techniques of eliminating juvenile fish (the lifeblood of any fishery).
Over the course of a year we recorded every trip we undertook at sea and measured the differences we made, we reduced are unwanted catch by 90%, however the method we used fell outside of EU laws and was illegal. Even after proving this, it is still illegal to use the methods we used by making the meshes in our cod end larger to allow fish to escape!
Also the EU did away with the ability of the UK to use the CCTV camera system that proved so useful in the trials and was seen by many as a ground breaking way of conducting fisheries science which the UK led the way on.
So with the backdrop of this as our working way of life and this is true of what all other British Fisherman face day in day out, the nonsensical way of running a fishery you have something which at the moment is unique in the great debate of our time, OUR INDUSTRY IS UNITED IN ITS BELIEF THAT WE CAN DO A BETTER JOB OF THIS ON OUR OWN, and that means the entire remnants of the British fishing Industry will be voting to leave I can assure you of that.
Where we have argument and counter argument on the many big issues, I urge anyone especially those of you are undecided to take a look at our industry, We are unique as we are one of the few industries completely run by the EU from its foundation to the day to day laws, all of this is decided by the EU. Even when we discuss fishing with other states outside of the EU like Iceland or Norway the UK fisheries minister has no seat at the table even though more often than not 60% of the waters up for discussion would belong to the UK.
Just recently the EU has given away 50% of our pelagic stocks to Iceland, Faroes and Norway and given them full access to our waters to fish within. All of this seems to be have been done for what they consider a greater cause increasing membership and trade, nothing to do with sustainability. Also when the EU decided to put a TAC on deep water species something the British fisherman had fished for in our waters for years, Instead of sharing this TAC out equally, France who had the presidency at the time awarded most of the TAC’s to themselves, now we stand by and watch them land this valuable catch into our ports and profit from this.
The arguments to leave for our industry are very clear cut, not from a financial point of view but something that being British citizens is deep rooted FAIRNESS, COMMON SENSE and DEMOCRACY Also we can clearly see that when you are trying to manage something and keep all parties happy but at the same time have your eye on something you think is a bigger prize, you lose sight of what you are trying to achieve.
For me I see this as the main problem of the EU, its lost sight of what it needs to be, we see this clearly in our industry for us a vote to leave will give us the opportunity to make a better job of not just the management of our industry but I am sure for all of the others as well. The UK has always led the way in the world on so many issues and still can, we just need to have more freedom to do this.
I think that if the UK were to vote to leave this would be a good thing for the EU itself as it would have to consider and question, the reasons why we chose to do this.
We would in fact be leading by example of democracy the way forward for the EU. I know by speaking to many of our EU counterparts that there is huge support for the British to take this lead especially from the Danes, Dutch and the Germans.
So let us take a step into something we are still very familiar with, the sunlit uplands of common sense, fairness and democracy, and VOTE TO LEAVE FOR ALL THESE REASONS GREATER THAN OURSELVES.
Last night in Malta SeaWeb held the Seafood Champions awards ceremony, the awards ceremony is held on the first night of the annual seafood summit which is a 3 day event.
The summit brings together all sides of the fishing debate, policy makers, scientists, NGO’s, fishing managers and a few Fisherman.
The topics that are discussed are always very relevant and they are designed to challenge all parties involved with fisheries and bring them together and discuss the big issues of the day.
This year we (Crystal Sea Fishing) were nominated for one of the award categories, there are 4 categories (Innovation, Leadership, vision and advocacy) there were 90 nominations for the four awards this year and this was narrowed down to 16 in all, 4 for each category.
We were nominated for our work that we have been involved with over the last 4 years with the MMO as part of the CQT scheme (catch quota trials). The trials have involved fishing vessels taking Remote electronic equipment on board our vessels, to monitor the health of the stocks and most importantly our impact we have on our mixed fisheries.
I have blogged before on what we have been up to and our findings, for us the most important part of what we have achieved has been proving that the fish stocks are in great health, far greater than the science ever predicted and that when fisherman are given the incentives, the right amount of quota and the flexible legislation to go about our work, we can deliver far better results.
We have also been able to build a collaborative approach with the MMO and the scientists (to a point) to use the work we have undertaken to build a very accurate picture of the effects our technical measures have had on our catches and it has given a very in depth look at the mechanisms we use and how policy adoptions could make our fisheries more reactive and deliver far better outcomes for all involved, by joining fishing, science and policy together to balance the whole approach we take.
I am proud to say that for the Innovation Category Crystal Sea Fishing have won the award! I am delighted that we have been recognised for our work and all credit goes to the crew who have done a huge amount of work over the last 4 years in enabling this data to be collected.
However lets not get carried away with patting ourselves on the back, today I don’t feel elated or have a great sense that we have achieved anything yet, we still have a lot of work to do. I am sorry I feel this way but it’s just how I feel and I am sure many other fishermen feel the same.
We are not the only ones who have undertaken scientific work and technical measures over the years, the UK fishing industry has taken on a lot of work in this area and I would say in Europe the UK leads the way in being pro-active towards its fisheries.
When I look back over the last 4 years I am reflecting on how far we have travelled, we have achieved a lot, we have proved beyond doubt that fisherman can be trusted to run fisheries and that we are the ones who are best placed to deliver the results.
Fishermen have more than delivered on our side of the bargain, to reduce discards and overall fishing mortality, and to deliver great data.
I have to ask though where has it gotten us? Since we have been working with the CQT scheme, our choke species is and has always been haddocks, and even though we have proved the sheer abundance of this stock in our area and that it is on a very strong upwards stock growth trend, we have faced year on year cuts of over 70% in the last 4 years.
This year we are seeing so many haddocks that even with being able to reduce our haddock catches by over 70%, we still do not have enough quota to go about our fishing practices despite having enough quota for all other species.
The work that the MMO has done with interpreting the data has been excellent and they have produced some great reports with very convincing data. They have proved how useful the REM equipment is and how it can deliver on many of the scientific challenges we face.
But who is listening? As yet we have not seen much movement with the scientists, who like the work and the data but they say it doesn’t fit their data collection protocols.
I can understand this, as one data set is not enough to give a full reflection of the impact of the fishery as a whole, however the data they are collecting is very small in comparison to what is needed to be done and most fisherman believe because of this, the picture the science has (from what they are seeing) does not reflect what the fisherman are experiencing on the grounds.
Then we lead onto policy, the policy makers have to follow the scientific evidence regardless of whether it is accurate or not, they then use this data and apply theoretical science to this at ICES to predict such things as to what levels to set the TAC (total allowable catch) based on MSY principles (maximum sustainable yield).
This all relies on the accuracy and quality of the data, for most stocks I would say the science is within the ball park for this to be workable, however on the erratic recruitment stocks of which haddock is one of many I would argue that more work needs to be done in this area for sure.
They then take the data and the scientific principle add in a landings obligation and the EU then applies all of this to an out of date over arching policy of the CFP (common fisheries policy) and expects it all to work.
The real prize here is for a fishery to be taken in the most efficient, economically advantageous way for our communities and for it to remain in continued constant good health.
For this to happen science needs to be part of what we do as fisherman, the scientists need to make best use of the data we have available and the tools we have to do this. Policy needs to recognise how to achieve this and start asking the right questions of the science and themselves, and then policy has the chance to reflect the fishery more closely, which will deliver the right outcomes.
For me this is our goal, it’s the only prize worth having, fisherman have for a long time faced the brunt of the blame for the poor policy decisions, we have been left baffled by the lack of common sense being applied to policy and we all deserve better.
As for us despite even after 4 years of ridiculous cuts which have only made our job harder and delivered no benefits to the stock, we will continue to go about our work and fully document our catches and apply the best methods of capture by use of technical innovation.
I don’t see any other choice, as fisherman we are natural optimists (you’d have to be to do this job) and burying our heads in the sand won’t solve these issues. We will go out and reverse the burden of proof and lead the way for science and policy to follow, it’s our only option.
I have been fishing now for nearly 25 years and in all of that time, the decisions that really matter, on how we fish and by what amount we can catch have been controlled by people far away miles from the sea, who most of us have never met.
The decisions that are made in Brussels by the EU have had a huge impact on how we run our business's. We are often left wondering how simple policies, have been made so complicated and bureaucratic, that once they are introduced to industry level, they just don't work.
I think that with the introduction of the discards ban, the bureaucrats have bitten off more than they can chew, and for once in their lives they are looking for someone else to come up with the answers.
This time it has to be the industry which leads the way, and I am sure that if we step up to the challenge, we can meet it. As long as the commission are prepared to rip up the rule book and afford us more flexibility to run our business's as we know best, so we can deliver the clean fisheries we know we can achieve.
For the last two years our vessel has been involved with the catch quota scheme, each year the bar has been raised in what we are expected to deliver. This year we have been running a fully documented catch on 3 species.
Adjusting to what is in effect a discard ban trial on 3 species has not been easy, but we have found our way through and we have met the challenges that inevitably get thrown at fisherman, through the course of a year.
This year we were faced with a big problem, we had a huge influx of juvenile haddocks entering the stock. This on the face of it was a good sign as it proves that the stock is healthy and it will receive a huge recruitment year class. However as a fisherman working with the cameras and having to count every fish against our quota this was a problem.
I felt like tearing my hair out in the beginning, but the crew and my brother and I put our heads together and we came up with a plan.
We needed to filter the juvenile haddocks out of the net, and we knew that a square mesh panel in the stocking wouldn't be effective enough. So we took the decision to put the SQMP in the cod end of one of the nets, we are twin rigging, so the other net we left as a control.
At first we made the panel quite small, about 7 meshes across and 15 deep, just to see the impact. After the first haul we saw instant results with 50% less juveniles in our catch.
We found that we were still retaining more haddocks than we would of liked, we reckoned this was due to the panel not being big enough and that we needed to place it further down the cod end.
We ended up with a panel 10 meshes wide and about 30 deep it started 2 meshes up from the cod line, and nearly up to the choker rings.
This proved very effective, and we have been averaging around 90-95% reduction in haddock juveniles and it will filter them up to 38 cm in length, which is a size 4 market grade.
We are working 100mm double 4mm netting in our cod ends and we simply made a SQMP out of the same material and fitted it in place as we needed to.
When I said earlier about ripping up the rule books, this is a good example how the rules actually impinged on our ability to deliver effective measures to reduce discards. This set up is illegal, as we should have only 5 meshes in the salvage, as it is classed as a SQMP just like the regulatory one in the stocking, we have 10 meshes each side up to the slavage.
What we have learned most from this is that if we are given the flexibility to go about our work as we are faced with the challenges, then we can deliver on the top down policies.
We have been lucky that we have had support from the MMO who allowed us to run the two nets alongside to see the results and supplied the dispensation to be able to do this.
We also had CEFAS aboard on our last trip who have backed up the CQT data we have done. They also assessed the whole of the catch, and we have reduced all discards by a very large amount.
We also had an economic impact report done on the loss of other fish, which will be released soon, but it is minimal and for us in our fishery this seems to be an effective tool.
The discards ban as it stands now, poses the industry with a huge problem, from what we have seen so far being involved with CQT, the quota's needs to be more flexible, as do the technical rules.
Their is also a political problem with relative share's of differing member states causing a problem when you apply a discards ban to a mixed fishery. If you take area 7 where we fish for example, then the average UK share is just over 21% of the EU TAC, however on some species this is only 7-10%, and they just so happen to be our potential choke species.
Which is of no surprise to us fisherman but before any discard ban is introduced for these species then this has to be addressed.
What has been good, is that the agencies in the UK who are tasked with delivering this are working with the industry and are working well together. The MMO seem to well understand the problems that we face, and CEFAS are starting to realise that the way we manage stocks at present, will not work very well within a discards ban.
Our industry needs to take control of this situation, explain what we can achieve and what is stopping us from meeting the aims of the discrds ban. Then we should guide the management side through the process of how to deliver a fully documented and clean fishery, through workable stock management and technical rules.
This will have to take the simple form of carrot and stick approach, greater compliance from a vessel should be rewarded with more flexibility, the problem we have is to ensure trust on both sides and from what I have seen camera's are the most effective tool to deliver this. This doesn't have to mean big brother at sea, one vessel from each metier could measure fleet activity as a whole quite effectively.
This needs to be done at a more regional level and allow us to implement what we need in our specific fisheries, one rule fits all, should be the only thing that is banned.