UK fishermen spanning large, offshore vessels as well as the small-scale fleet challenged the Fisheries Minister on their future at what has been called ‘the most pivotal cross roads the industry has experienced in decades’.
Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon MP, opened himself up to strong questioning from members of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and discussed the practical and commercial implications of many high profile changes affecting the industry
Issues included CFP reform, Marine Conservation Zones, a ban on discards, quota management and shell fisheries
Whitby fisherman and NFFO President Arnold Locker said: “What was clear from the minister’s answers today is that he wants the same thing that we do – a sustainable fishing industry that’s also an economic one.”
The devolution of fisheries management from Brussels to a more regional level was another key area of focus and one which the NFFO’s Chief Executive, Barrie Deas, says could be vital. He said: “While it may not be the headline grabber like the ban on discards, regionalisation of fisheries management could have the power to really turn around dysfunctional fisheries management.”
Mr Benyon added “This is the fishing industry’s opportunity to make sure what is implemented is proportionate, is effective, goes no further than it needs and is scientific and evidence based.”
The minister also highlighted the need for a scientific and evidenced based approach to MCZs, describing celebrity Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign to introduce 127 of the zones immediately as “irrational”.
The change and diversity within the UK fishing fleet was also underlined in the questioning.
Barrie Deas added: “While we have always had a diverse fleet, the number of questions pertaining to shellfishery demonstrates the noticeable move away from white fish in recent years.
“This is both a great testament to the industry’s ability to adapt to survive, but also a lament of the changes our colleagues have been forced to make because of fisheries mis-management under the Common Fisheries Policy.”
Despite concerns about the future of the industry, the majority of fishermen present were optimistic about the ongoing partnership work required to secure a more positive outlook.
Also present at the meeting were representatives from Defra and the Marine Management Organisation.