The fishing giant that claimed their membership was 'this big' when it wasn't

Posted by Ariana Densham — 8 February 2013 at 6:33pm - Comments
Fisherman with sustainably caught fish
All rights reserved. Credit: David Sandison/Greenpeace
Just how big is the NFFO's membership list?

Earlier this week, we exposed that the UK’s top fishing lobby – the National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations (NFFO) – is not what it says on the tin. Traditional fishing is in crisis and it seems that small-scale fishermen aren’t getting the representation they deserve. Our investigation revealed some very interesting surprises and it has elicited a very fervent response from the NFFO.

One of our key findings was that 57% of the gross tonnage represented by the NFFO fleet is under foreign control. Gross tonnage refers to a vessel’s capacity to catch fish, which represents its financial interest in a fishery, and it gives an indication of the volume of UK fishing quota held by a vessel.

However, the federation has confirmed that 8% of the total number of vessels represented by the NFFO is under foreign control. Whether it's 8% or 57%, we’re both talking about the same group of 42 vessels. I'd like to thank the NFFO for confirming that this finding is correct.

By focusing on the number of vessels instead of how big they are, the NFFO is of course trying to play down the extent to which its membership is foreign controlled. But suggesting that the number of vessels is more important than the amount they can catch is disingenuous. It’s like saying that a sardine is of equivalent value to that of a tuna fish – any fisherman will tell you that’s not the case. Size really does matter!

The bigger the vessel, the more it pays for its membership in the NFFO – therefore the more influence it has on the organisation. This is not unusual – we see it all the time. It’s the same as big business or media moguls having greater influence on government.

The NFFO gets four times more income from the large vessels in its membership than from smaller vessels under 10m in length – despite its claim to have almost an equal number of small boat members to large. It is clear which interests the NFFO prioritizes.

Another key finding in our investigation was that the NFFO is trying to deny UK small scale fishermen’s representative bodies wider access on regional advisory councils (RACs). So far it has singularly failed to rebuke this. Yet a letter from the Federation to the European Commission (which has since been made publicly available) demonstrates that it has been lobbying to block those representative bodies from joining RACs – read it for yourself. It seems that its silence on this matter only confirms the truth of our findings.

For our other findings into the NFFO, you can read our report or watch the animation.

So what needs to happen?

  1. The NFFO must be transparent about who it really represents and make a full list of its member vessels public. If it really is so committed to being ‘open’ then this should be no problem.
  2. Our report revealed that the NFFO is falsely representing 11 out of 20 fishermen’s associations. It must correct these inaccuracies. Here we have to admit that we got this wrong. Already, since our report has been published 17 out of the 20 fishermen’s associations listed on the NFFO’s site as members have vanished. It looks like we may have underestimated how many associations had not given the NFFO a mandate to speak on their behalf.
  3. Finally, our fisheries minister Richard Benyon, to whom the NFFO is one of the top advisory bodies on fisheries policy, must press the European Commission to ensure the UK small scale fleet is adequately represented on regional advisory councils. 

The NFFO is clearly dominated by powerful often foreign controlled vessels and it is trying to stop small boats not in its membership from getting wider representation. This is something that concerns not only Greenpeace, but others, such as the shadow fisheries minister Tom Harris as well as MPs like Laura Sandys and Amber Rudd who are all shocked at the findings of our investigation.

Here's what they said:

Small-scale fishermen from our constituencies have, quite rightly, been telling us that having the NFFO represent their interests is like saying Tesco or Sainsbury’s will look out for the interests of the local greengrocer; there is a direct conflict of interest and this investigation confirms what we already knew

Laura Sandys MP

I found recent reports that the National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisation (NFFO) is dominated by foreign controlled fishing barons very concerning. Laura, the minister and I are all committed to overcoming this and ensuring that the voice of the small scale fisherman is heard at every level of government.

Amber Rudd MP

The report’s findings will come as a bitter pill to swallow for small-scale fisherman and struggling coastal communities. It is unacceptable that fleets representing the smaller, sustainable end of the industry, and which employ nearly two thirds of full-time workers should have to survive on just four per cent of the UK fishing quota.

Tom Harris MP

What we all want to know is, will the NFFO now come clean about who it really represents and publish a full list of its member vessels?

About Ariana

I’m Ariana and I’m an campaigner in the Oceans team at Greenpeace UK.  

interested? Follow me on twitter @arianadensham


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