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UK to blame for poor quota deal for its fishers

The UK government is failing to use its powers to manage its fisheries in the interest of the public or struggling fishers - and Brexit won't change that.

New analysis from the New Economics Foundation finds that the UK is failing to manage its fisheries in the public interest:

  • UK fisheries score poorly: lagging behind other European countries on accessibility, fairness and representative decision-making
  • Smaller fleets losing out: large-scale operations have been allowed to dominate the industry and reap huge profits, while smaller boats are struggling to access quotas and break even
  • UK powers are under-used: ministers could support smaller fleets by adjusting quota allocations to diversify access to fish stocks, as well as updating the tax system to maximise benefits to struggling fishers and ports
  • Brexit won’t lead to more control: the UK system of allocating quotas is determined by UK ministers, not Brussels

The Foundation’s research – the first comprehensive assessment of EU fishing quotas and how they are allocated by national governments – shows wide variation across 12 EU Member States, but a universal failure to get the best results for industry or the public.

While total allowable catch in European waters is agreed through negotiations with EU ministers, distribution of fishing rights is then determined by individual governments.

The Foundation’s analysis shows there is much more individual Member States, including the UK, can do to fairly grant access to fish stocks.

Griffin Carpenter, Economist at the New Economics Foundation, said:

Fisheries must be sustainable but they should also be fair. Through better management of its fishing opportunities, the UK can support fishers and coastal communities – many of whom are struggling under huge financial pressure.”

The Leave campaign promised that Brexit would allow UK fishers to take back control, but the reality is that big decisions on who fishes what in Britain’s seas are already Westminster’s to take.”

UK ministers must take more responsibility. There are steps they can take today to ensure fair access for small-scale fishers in ports across Britain.”

Fish stocks are a vital public resource, and access to them is a heated subject across the EU and within individual Member States. Governments have approached the question of access in different ways.

The Foundation’s report examines how 12 EU Member States (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK) make that decision – and the consequences that this can have.

The systems in place vary significantly. While fishers in Belgium and the Netherlands fish many of the same species in the same waters, the government-rationed quotas of the former and market for ownership rights in the latter are worlds apart in management approach.

A successful system should allow fishers to thrive and the public to benefit, all while ensuring an accountable and fair decision-making process. The report sets out a framework of objectives that reflect this.

While some Member States are performing better than others, in all cases fisheries management is shown to be costly to administer and generates little public revenue. Obtaining access to the fishing industry for new entrants is difficult, and the transparency of many systems of fishing opportunities is low.

More must be done by individual governments to improve systems and fishing to deliver the best results for their citizens.

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