fishing boats

Access to Britain’s fishing quotas had been ’fully or partially privatised’ without debate, the report claimed

The UK government, rather than EU policy, is at fault for the long decline of the British fishing sector, a new report has claimed.

Brexit would likely have little positive effect on the sector without significant reform to quota rules, suggested Fish, Fishing and Brexit, published today by City University’s Centre for Food Policy.

It was ‘easy to condemn’ the EU’s much-maligned Common Fisheries Policy ’as the cause of the contractions of the fishing industry’, claimed the report. But to criticise the policy would be to “blame unpleasant medicine rather than the disease”, suggested report author Miriam Greenwood. The CFP had, in the past decade, become an “effective engine for sustainable fishing”, she claimed.

A key cause of the difficulties experienced by the fishing sector was the ’necessary remedial action to deal with overfishing’, the report said. Meanwhile, the restriction of fishing quotas under the CFP and downsizing of fleets throughout the 1970s and 1980s had been ’essential’ due to stock reductions resulting from overfishing.

Tipping point: fish category report 2018

Access to many of Britain’s quotas, initially allocated based on the basis of past catches, had, over a period of years, ’been fully or partially privatised, without parliamentary or public debate’, the paper suggested.

This had led to the commoditisation of the sector through ’decisions entirely under the control of UK governments’, resulting in the concentration of large portions of the sector into the hands of large companies, some of whom were not even British-owned.

’Stop criticising the CFP’

The fishing sector should ’stop criticising the CFP for the problems resulting from their failures to act on this basis in the past as earnest for future intentions’, it suggested. And without comprehensive reform to quota allocation, the expected post-Brexit ‘quota bonus’ – where the UK fishing community would gain more access to fish in its own waters – would not resolve the structural issues affecting the sector alone.

Many smaller fisheries could continue to struggle, while a potential no-deal Brexit would cut off key export markets crucial to parts of a sector hugely dependent on exports.

Regardless of which Brexit deal it secured, the government should also seek to address the UK’s import/export imbalance by encouraging greater consumption of native fish species, the report urged.

And given the concerns over unilateral quota-setting from a no-deal scenario, it should prioritise committing to an ’effective fisheries management system in which scientific advice is fully followed, no excess quotas are set and fishing activity follows the rules’.

The quota system should also focus on fair distribution across all sectors of the fleet, and to reward the most sustainable forms of fishing, while rules to limit foreign ownership should also be imposed and enforced.

“Above all, a no-deal exit must be avoided because of the chaotic and destructive consequences that are predicted to result,” Greenwood said.

From The Grocer archive: Will Brexit net a better deal for British fisheries?

Choosing to allocate quotas to large companies rather than smaller or more sustainable fishers, “took a terrible toll”, said Ruth Westcott, a fisheries campaigner at Sustain.

“Simply leaving the EU won’t help coastal communities – in fact it might cut off their access to vital fish markets. Setting a good domestic fishing policy, with a legal requirement to rebuild stocks and allocate quota more fairly, could deliver jobs and growth to fishing communities. The government must now listen to this growing evidence and amend the Fisheries bill to make this the case.”

Argument ‘cheapened’ by absolving EU

Fishing for Leave agreed with much of the report’s contents, said the campaign group’s head Aaron Brown. “But to absolve the EU from any blame really cheapens their argument,” he added.

The pro-Brexit group supported the need for reforms to quota allocation, sustainable fishing, better promotion of UK species and curbs on foreign ownership, but Brown suggested the Centre for Food Policy’s attempt to absolve the EU was motivated by “political bias”.

“The CFP is a failed policy that didn’t work, and gave a huge share of British resources to EU countries. Successive UK governments merely poured petrol on the fire. So both are at fault.”