Taking Back Control of Our Seas

Myself and my colleagues at the Angling Trust recently heard that a well-known sea angling club was planning to make representations to the Home Secretary to insist that a 12-mile exclusion zone from EU boats is implemented to “preserve the rights of British vessels, both commercial and recreational”.

From my experience, UK commercial fishermen (but also recreational anglers) have a tendency to castigate and blame foreign vessels – French, Spanish, Man in the Moon, Uncle Tom Cobley etc. – for all the UK’s overfishing problems.

I was woken at 5am by an angler to tell me that Sennen Cove was being netted by a fleet of Spanish gill netters… Where were they actually from? NEWLYN!

During the late autumn 2015 I was woken by my bedside phone at 5am by an angler to tell me that Sennen Cove (Cornwall) was being netted by a fleet of Spanish gill netters. He said he KNEW it was true because he’d actually witnessed the vessels deck lights and they were close enough to the shore to actually see them hauling in bass under the illumination of their deck lights.  I asked him why he thought they were from Spain and his reply was “Well, everyone knew they were from Spain”.  So I asked him what size vessels they were and he said about 18 to 20 feet.  I then asked him did he know how far they would have had to travel and that such a trip would have involved crossing the Bay of Biscay? He wasn’t sure but was now beginning to see the ludicrousness of his acceptance that the boats were from Spain. So I asked him if he’d like to be in an 18 footer for 450 miles across the Bay of Biscay!?  By now, he realised how stupid he’d been.

Where were they actually from? NEWLYN!

Sennen_Cove_August_2009

The beautiful Sennen Cove in Cornwall, which in autumn 2015 was apparently being destroyed by a “fleet of Spanish gill netters”.

All EU vessels of 12 metres or more have mandatory Vessel Monitoring Systems.  The legislation can be seen here. It reads:

Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)

The vessel monitoring system (VMS) is a satellite-based fishing vessel monitoring system providing data to the fisheries authorities at regular intervals on the location, course and speed of vessels. The system is compulsory for EU vessels above 15 m (as from 1 January 2012 – vessels above 12 m). Non-EU vessels of the same size are obliged to have an operational satellite tracking device installed on board whenever they are in Community waters.

I suppose it is possible theoretically for non-UK vessels less than 12 metres that wont have VMS to fish illegally under cover of darkness inside the UK 6 mile limit but given modern radar capabilities of both fisheries protection vessels and UK fishing vessels, I doubt it. Interestingly, those seeking a 12-mile exclusion zone claim: “Many EU fishing boats are currently abusing this ruling by fishing at night, untracked, sometimes as close as 3 miles from our shores.” Have they stopped to consider that UK boats are currently EU boats and as EU licensed vessels have every right to be as close as 3 miles!

What worries me is that the representations being made by the aforementioned club sounds very much as though gullible RSAs are allowing themselves to be manipulated by commercials who simply want to gain public sympathy to soften up politicians as Brexit unfolds.

Contrary to public opinion I have never subscribed to the notion that all UK commercial fishing is carried out ‘sustainably’ with high compliance to legislation whilst foreign vessels fish without any regard to sustainability or legislation. The idea that UK fishermen are all innocent victims of foreign plunderers doesn’t stack up for me. In short, UK fishers need no lessons on overfishing from the Spanish or French.

It is not WHO is carrying out the fishing but HOW MUCH fish is being removed.

This is a smoke screen to mask the uncomfortable truth which is that the key problem is not WHO is carrying out the fishing but HOW much fish is being removed.

I have reached the conclusion that the entire fisheries management mechanism [IFCAs locally, Defra nationally and CFP on a pan-EU level] is fundamentally flawed because it has become ‘industry captured’. The whole sorry process has lost sight of basics such as that the fish in the marine environment are public, societal resources. Natural renewable fishery resources are in fact a component of our Public Capital. All EU Governments (including UK) are guilty of failing to act as responsible custodians of our fishery resources on behalf of the people. They have for many decades allowed perceived ownership of those resources to be privatised into the hands of commercial fishers. Commercial fishers now sincerely believe the fish ARE theirs. Why wouldn’t they?  They were given FREE licenses that entitles them to exploit the public resource for commercial profit and management decisions consistently overturn scientific advice for appeasement of short term earning opportunities.

The foxes are genuinely running the hen house!

In the acrimonious debate in 2006 when Ben Bradshaw announced the bass Minimum Landing Size was to increase to 40 cm, a number of letters in Fishing News spelt out clearly that recreational anglers had ‘no right’ to interfere in fisheries management and that it was none of their business!

All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to remain silent. Well, RSA sat silently by when the CFP was being drafted and the CFP ended up prioritising earning opportunities for commercial fishers rather than prioritising the wellbeing of fishery resources. The regulations have slowly – ever so slowly – been modified at each decadal review process but proposals (and there have been many) to seriously re-alter the focus towards protecting fishery resources rather than the livelihoods of fishermen have always been thwarted at the last moment.

The foxes are genuinely running the hen house!

IMGP0055

No user group have more right to access marine fishery resources than Recreational Sea Anglers

If angling clubs want anglers to campaign for better management of fish stocks, that is brilliant! All credit to them. But for God’s sake they should do so from the perspective of re-establishing recognition in the minds of politicians and fisheries managers that fishery resources ARE public societal resources and should be harvested under an overarching ambition of prioritising the wellbeing of the resources. Furthermore, no user stakeholder has a superior right to access those public resources than those members of the public who elect to equip themselves with the knowledge and gear to catch some fish to feed their families.

No user stakeholder has a superior right to access fisheries than those members of the public who elect to equip themselves with the knowledge and gear to catch some fish to feed their families.

And just for the record, my wife and I eat a lot of fish that includes species I do not catch such as monk, hake to name two. We also tend to order fish when eating out. So I am not opposed to commercial fishing. I am opposed to the ongoing deterioration of fish stocks and the plummeting quality of my legitimate angling experience.

malcolm-gilbertMalcolm Gilbert | June 2017

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