12 / 1997
As UK fishermen protest against their country’s `tie-up law’, it is clear that there are problems with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)determined for all European Community (EC)member states by the Commission of the European Communities (CEC). In December 1993, the British government withdrew its planned imposition of the controversial `tie-up law’, pending the judgement of the EC court in Luxembourg.The CFP is based on the concept of a `common fishing pool’. This includes all the coastal and `territorial’ seas of member states and those within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)of the EC. Each member state is allocated a share of the EC’s fishing pool and the CEC sets limits on member state fishing capacity. Shares and fishing capacity are based on traditional fishing areas, fleet size, catch levels and bargaining power, among other factors. The CEC in Brussels delegates to each member state the responsibility for the structuring of its fishing fleet to within the limits set for the fishing effort. CEC bureaucrats plan to reduce the fishing fleet by at least 40 per cent, to match fishing effort to the catch limits set. Multi-Annual Guidance Programmes (MGAPs)have been devised and established for each member state. This will involve significant decommissioning of vessels, cut-backs in fishing time or redeployment of vessels to other fishing waters The CEC has also established `decommissioning’ grants for each member state, to help remove excess fishing capacity. In this, some states fare better than others. For example, the MGAP for the UK calls for a 19 per cent reduction in the number of boats over the next five years, but decommissioning grants fall far short of requirement. Fishermen claim these targets are excessively harsh, and will be a disaster for the 4,500 boats and the 20,000 fishworkers empl-oyed aboard the UK fishing fleet.In the case of the UK, the CFP is implemented through the Sea Fish (Conservation)Act and each `Producer Organisation’ (PO)is allocated quota shares and fishing effort limits. One of the corner-stones of the Act is the so-called `tie-up law’, the 1993 Sea Fish Licensing (Time at Sea)Order. Through this, the British government hopes to achieve the fleet reduction specified in the MGAP by limiting the number of days each vessel spends at sea. The number of days each vessel is allocated varies with size and fishing regime, among other things, and ranges from 80 to 250 days. In England over half the fleet have been given the minimum of 80 days, while in Scotland about 30 per cent have received the minimum.UK fishermen, in the early part of 1993, captured British news headlines while protesting against the `tie-up law’. Many ports were blockaded, shipping was disrupted, civil disturbance ensued and several arrests were made. By June, these protests had become organised and structured campaigns. The fishermen’s organisations took legal advice and they are now challenging the tie-up law. Given that matters of EC law are involved, the case is likely to be referred to the EC court. The proceedings could take up to two years to be resolved.In the mean time, in July 1993, the House of Commons Agriculture Committee observed that the `days at sea restrictions applied to the whole fleet over 10 m are unnecessarily draconian and amount to little more than decommissioning’ and that it could result in `a catastrophic financial implosion, causing UK fishermen to sell pressure stock licences to foreign fishermen’. `Pressure stocks’ are those fish stocks considered to be under excessive fishing pressure, as opposed to `non-pressure stocks’.The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), the apex body of all English fishermen’s organisations, along with the SFF, which represents the Scottish fishermen, have prepared packages of alternative measures to the Sea Fish (Conservation)Act. Both federations propose new technical measures, closed areas and changes to licence aggregation rules. Both also argue for more decommissioning money.
Evidently, the British government did not introduce the `days at sea’ regime to conserve fish stocks. Rather, it was merely a means of meeting the MGAP fleet reduction targets imposed by Brussels. The alternative measures proposed by important grassroots fishermen’s initiatives in the UK, to improve the conservation and management of their fish stocks, must be taken seriously. They represent serious alternatives to fisheries legislation imposed through centralised non-consultative EC processes from Brussels. Regulatory measures proposed by fishing communities, taking into account the specificities of their own fisheries, are likely to be far more effective. In addition, adherence to regulations is likely to be far higher. If conservation and management of fish stocks in an ecologically and socially responsible manner is the goal, then there is an urgent need to move away from centralised and top-down systems of management, and to establish mechanisms for the participation of all stakeholders in fishery management.
Articles and files
O'RIORDAN, Brian, Common Policy, uncommon muddle? in. Samudra Report, 1994/02, 9