fair fishing

Here’s a classic example of the ‘little guys’ squaring off against the ‘big guns’.

In Britain, hundreds of small fishing businesses are facing financial destruction. That’s why these business owners are now calling for radical changes to European fishing rules. Campaigners say their case revolves around one important statistic: Although small fishing boats account for 77% of the UK’s fishing fleet and 65% of full-time employment in the industry – they’re allowed access to only 4% of the fishing quota.

Even to the untrained eye, this scenario looks like an apparent imbalance. Fishermen and environmental activists say the viability of boats less than 10 metres long is increasingly under threat. Big fishing interests not only dominate the industry, but are also threatening fish stocks. They say centuries-old fishing communities are also being wiped out because of corporate interests.

Hastings is a town on the south coast of England. A fleet of 29 small fishing boats still operate from the nearby beach known as the Stade. They mainly catch cod, plaice and sole. The town’s fishing industry is part of England’s south-east region. Here, 339 small boats have access to a defined pool representing about 30% of the regional quote. Meanwhile, nine larger vessels control 70%.

Local fishermen say they were once able to fish as they saw fit. But back in 2006, a European register of buyers and sellers was introduced to the industry. Small fishermen say this marked the arrival of a much more stringent regime.

This year, there’s been a sweeping review of the EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP). Small fishing interests have partnered with environmental powerhouse, Greenpeace. This week, the new partnership published a ‘Manifesto for Fair Fisheries’ (view as a PDF). It supports granting “priority access” to fish such as cod, hake and monkfish to small fishermen. The process would then allocate the quota “in a way which rewards sustainable fishing methods and protects coastal communities”.

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The European commission says it is looking out for the interests of smaller fleets. It says it’s helping them gain access to more of the funds for improving vessels. That’s because the bigger a country’s small fleet, the more financial assistance that member state would be allocated.

Various CFP reforms were passed by member state ministers in June. But they must pass the European Parliament, too. Many MEPs of various countries have links with the big, industrialised fishing industries. So there are fears that the proposals may get dogged once up for review.

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