Will George Eustice finally create a fair deal for small-scale fishermen?
(Guest blog by Frances Rankin)
Fisheries Minister George Eustice was at the House of Lords yesterday, facing questions on the future of the fishing industry after we leave the EU.
Eustice called Brexit an opportunity to take a serious look at shares of allocations both within the EU and the UK to see who can fish where, what and how much. He made it clear that sustainable fishing (by keeping to the Maximum Sustainable Yield) is a priority when negotiating with other countries.
He accepted that there would be some disagreement within the industry on changing current quotas, but failed to give substantial information on how this would be dealt with. Greenpeace has campaigned for quotas to be determined by social, economic and environmental criteria for years – we need to make unequal quota distribution a thing of the past, and sustain local fishermen’s livelihoods.
Eustice confirmed that the government have no concrete plans in place. He also acknowledged that some fishermen will want to keep their current quotas, while others will be left feeling they’ve lost out if quotas stay the same. Proposing that quotas should vary between sectors, he said: “…For some vessels for some sectors, particularly the under tens, I think many of them are frustrated that a lot of the regulation that affects them feels overly onerous and overly complex given the amount of fish that they catch.”
Arguing that the UK doesn’t receive enough fishing quota from the EU, he said: “…historically we’ve ended up with a disproportionately small share of stock given that a great deal of it is caught in our waters.” But he was challenged on this, and on claims made during his Leave campaigning, claims he maintained yesterday as he said we could “reclaim our stocks”. A House of Lords committee member called this “utterly unrealistic” and reminded Eustice that quotas with other EU countries is a trade off.
When it comes to discards, Greenpeace welcomes Eustice’s plan to keep the ban (this ensures fishermen aren’t throwing perfectly good seafood overboard for fear of being penalised for catching more than their allocated quota). Eustice said: “I was very clear that fishing sustainably would remain a key tenant of UK policy if we did leave. The discard ban is the right approach, the UK argued for this, it’s got to be right to strive to reduce discard.”
Eustice promised a lot to fishermen in the run up to the referendum. Now he needs to seize the opportunity to create a fishing policy which puts environmental and economic sustainability at its heart – a fishing policy that champions local fishermen, that reinvigorates our coastal communities and that maintains healthy fish stocks.