Foreign vessels accused of taking UK quota

Monday, 18 March 2013 16:08

GREENPEACE has welcomed news of a government review of the ‘economic-link’ requirements for vessels holding UK fishing quota, as they feel it could lead to more quota being allocated to sustainable fishermen with closer ties to their coastal communities.

The launch of a consultation was mentioned by fisheries minister Richard Benyon in a Times article published last week and confirmed to Greenpeace by officials from the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The announcement comes only weeks after a Greenpeace investigation cast doubts on the effectiveness of the current regulation by showing how millions of pounds worth of fishing quota are used by foreign-controlled vessels to catch fish which is then taken abroad and sold there, with little or no tangible benefit to coastal communities or even the wider UK economy.

In a report published last month, A Wolf in Shrimp’s Clothing, Greenpeace revealed that foreign interests, including some of Europe’s most powerful fishing giants and operators with serious convictions for illegal fishing, control the majority of the fishing quota held by five of the eight Fish Producer Organisations represented by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) – the UK fishing industry’s most influential lobby group.

Greenpeace oceans campaigner Ariana Densham said: “This policy was supposed to ensure that those who exploit a precious and fragile resource belonging to us all do so in a way that brings benefits to our economy. Instead, we have a whole fleet of foreign-controlled vessels using UK fishing quota worth millions to fill the coffers of overseas operators, whilst local inshore fishermen have barely enough quota to scrape by.

“The missing link in the ‘economic link’ is the small scale, low-impact fleet, which accounts for three quarters of all UK fishing boats. The government consultation should look to support and reward the low-impact fishing of this largely sustainable fleet which delivers jobs and is the lifeblood of many coastal communities.”

The ‘economic link’ policy, first introduced in 1999, is meant to ensure that the business activities of vessels fishing against UK quota, particularly those controlled by foreign interests, provide some sort of economic return for the UK economy.

Under the current system, vessel owners can pick and choose from a wide range of criteria to demonstrate an economic link with the UK, with the percentage of catches landed in the UK being only one of them. But the government’s own estimates suggest that this policy has failed to secure the UK economy an adequate return for the allocation of British quota to foreign fishing interests.

According to a 2009 report by Defra – the latest available – most foreign-controlled vessels fishing against UK quota either land their catches abroad or export them immediately after reaching British ports, and therefore their “true economic value [to the UK economy] could be close to zero”.