‘Fairer deal’ plea by fishermen as quotas reviewed

DEMANDS were made this week for fishermen on the east coast to be given a fairer deal, as the government announced it was to investigate the controversial quota system.

Defra is looking into so-called 'slipper skippers' who, it is claimed, hold up to 30pc of the nation's fishing quota without ever setting out to sea.

There are currently no rules preventing non-fishermen from taking part of Britain's annual share of quotas which are dictated by Europe every year, then leasing them out to make money.

But, as consumers become more aware of the problems facing the industry, thanks to campaigns such as Channel 4's Fish Fight series, the Anglia Fishermen's Association (AFA) and Waveney MP Peter Aldous are now calling for the 'slipper skipper' loophole to be tightened so under-pressure fishermen can get a fairer and larger share of quotas.

At the moment, the 10 small boats working from Lowestoft and six from Southwold – a small remnant of a once-mighty fleet – are each allowed to catch only one tonne of cod and 100kg of skate a month.

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Because their quota limits are so restrictive, fishermen say they are regularly forced to 'discard' large parts of their catches by dumping fish back into the North Sea.

As a result, some fishermen are forced to go cap in hand to 'slipper skippers', some of whom are ex-fishermen, to lease their quotas off them so they can catch extra cod and skate to pay their bills. A typical fee could see a fishermen pay a 'slipper skipper' half the price of his catch.

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Last Friday, a boat-owners were offered a glimmer of hope when, Defra said that, as part of a review of the fishing industry, it might set up a 'register of quota ownership' to make the system more transparent.

Melvin Robinson, AFA spokesman and owner of the Lowestoft-based fishing boat the Four Daughters, said up to 30pc of quotas were taken by non-fishermen.

He said: 'The slipper skippers are an absolute nightmare for the fishing industry. Unless there is action there will be fishermen going out of business. All these slipper skippers do is sit on quotas and then make a huge profit from them while fishermen who actually take to the sea are denied a proper share.'

Under current arrangements with the European Common Fisheries Policy (ECFP), only 4pc of quotas are given to the UK's fishing vessels under 10m long – despite the fact they make up 85pc of the nation's fleet.

The rest of the quota is shared between producer organisations, made up of fishing boat owners, and the 'slipper skippers' who buy and lease quotas and have no obligation to have links to the fishing industry.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous has also campaigned against the current quota system.

'It is quite right for Mr Robinson to raise this,' he said. 'At the moment we have got a situation where 85pc of the Britain's fishing fleet only has 4pc of the quota. It is quite a ridiculous situation.'

A Defra spokesman said: 'Currently, there are no rules to prevent non-fishermen from holding quota. Some of these are ex-fishermen, or others who play a role in selling or leasing quota.

'We will soon put forward proposals to reform the fishing industry in England and, as part of this, we are looking at ways to improve transparency of quota ownership, possibly through a register.'

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