Our Net Gain

Posted by Nina Schrank — 18 November 2014 at 6:08pm - Comments
'Save our fish' sign in Newlyn harbour, Cornwall
All rights reserved. Credit: David Sandison/Greenpeace
View of Newlyn harbour in Cornwall

There’s everything to gain from healthy seas, fair fishing and thriving coastal communities. That’s why I’m excited to share the news about our new campaign, Our Net Gain.

This is all about rewarding sustainable fishing, and highlighting the injustice at the heart of the UK’s fishing quota system.

For the last year we’ve been digging away and looking into who holds fishing quota. We already knew that most of it was in the hands of industrial scale big business, but the scale of its consolidation, into just a few hands, took us by surprise. Unbelievably, much of this fishing quota is used by foreign business - nearly half the English quota is used by foreign controlled companies. 

Immediately, the shocking facts hit headlines all across the UK. The Times, Daily Mail, Independent and Guardian , ITV Anglia and BBC’s Newsnight have all covered the incredible results of our investigation.

Fishing quota is in the stranglehold of industrial fishing businesses, and this is at the expense of the thousands of local fishermen across the coast, who have barely enough quota to survive. We’ve been working in alliance with small scale fishermen, our most sustainable sector of the fleet, for years now. We campaigned together to fix the EU’s broken fishing laws, and we won! These laws now finally recognise the value of sustainable fishermen who contribute to the economy of their local communities.

The EU has told our government to reward and prioritise these very fishermen, and make many more positive changes that will restore fish stocks and safeguard our marine environment. We think that this needs to happen sooner rather than later; if we are to protect our seas and coastal communities, the government must put low impact, sustainable fishermen at the front of the queue for fishing quota.

A perfect example of what’s gone wrong lies with the giant vessel Cornelis Vrolijk, Britain’s most prolific fishing vessel, which holds 23% of the English quota (about 6% of the entire fishing quota for the UK). This vessel is registered as British, but its owners are Dutch, and it lands its entire catch in the Netherlands.  By doing this they deprive coastal communities of income they would make from processing and selling the catch.  Being deprived of this income is not what the UK’s fishing communities need right now.

We also found out that five vessels hold 20% of the UK quota. This stat stands in stark contrast to the allocation of quota to small scale fishermen – they only get 4% despite making up nearly 80% of the fleet.

Unsurprisingly, the lobbyists that represent the industrial scale fleet, such as the National Federation of Fishing Organisations and the wealthy manager of the Cornelis Vrolijk, are arguing that the status quo works. But of course, it’s only working for them. They argued that smaller scale fishermen wouldn’t be able to catch the quota that the factory fishing ships can. But this is missing the point. We aren’t suggesting giving all the quota to small scale fishermen, we’re simply calling for a re-ordering of quota allocation to ensure that sustainable fishing businesses, that are key to local economies, are first in line for quota. By doing this, the government would also be incentivising all fishing businesses to become more sustainable, with a greater link to the UK economy.

On my travels across the UK coast over the last couple of years, I’ve seen the demise of the most sustainable sector of the fleet.  And the communities reliant on fishing have suffered too. If you’ve ever been on holiday on the UK coast you’ll know that fishing boats are a core part of the British coastal experience. 

The sad truth is that there are fewer and fewer small boats on our shores. Once proud fishing communities like Lowestoft in Suffolk have lost their local industry, and with it, a part of their identity. If the local, low impact fishermen from these communities were prioritised for fishing quota, we could create thousands more jobs – the small scale sector are already the greatest employers, creating two thirds of employment at sea.

Giving these guys more quota is a win-win solution for coastal economies, fish stocks and our seas. We just need the government to take action. Join the call by signing the petition to fisheries minister George Eustice today. 

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