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Fishermen hit out at cod quota 'scandal'

PUBLISHED: 13:17 07 January 2008 | UPDATED: 19:22 05 July 2010

Lowestoft's dwindling numbers of fishermen have criticised the "scandalous" management of cod quotas which has left many facing bankruptcy while surplus allocation is snapped up by businessmen and traded as a commodity.

Lowestoft's dwindling numbers of fishermen have criticised the “scandalous” management of cod quotas which has left many facing bankruptcy while surplus allocation is snapped up by businessmen and traded as a commodity.

Over-fishing and climate change have decimated cod stocks in recent years, and taken their toll on East Anglia's traditional industry as EU limitations were enforced to conserve the fish's numbers.

More than 90pc of the UK's Total Allowable Catch is distributed by large Producers Organisations (POs) which manage the majority of large trawlers.

Most of the inshore fleet of under-10m vessels are not members of POs and have to exist on the remainder of the quota, which is allocated by Defra through the Marine and Fisheries Agency.

The purchasing power of the POs means they can lease part of their lion's share of the quota back to the smaller vessels, or to wealthy corporations and landowners - known to the fishermen as “slipper skippers” - who can sell a share to the highest bidder.

Fishermen said although they are finding an abundance of cod off the north Suffolk coast they are struggling to survive on their meagre slice of the allocation, while their running costs made it uneconomical to pay in the region of £1 per kilo to rent extra quota.

David Richards, 40, who has fished from Lowestoft with his father Ronnie for 25 years, said: “The big trawlers get the extra quota but the inshore fleet don't have a big enough operation to join that club - we can't afford to do it.

“The government allowed the POs to acquire this quota, saying that market forces rule, but they should never have allowed cod stocks to become a tradeable asset.”

Fisheries minister Jonathan Shaw negotiated an 11pc rise in the UK's North Sea cod quota at a meeting of the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers in December.

But as 48-year-old Melvin Robinson prepared to put to sea to make the most of his two-tonne monthly allocation he criticised the “ludicrous archaic rules” which saw boats routinely discarding hundreds of pounds worth of prime cod caught in excess of their quota.

“There were more than 200 boats here when I started in 1986, but now there are only nine or 10 left,” he said. “The real problem is the imbalance in how the quotas are managed.

“It is a crazy system where some boats are allowed to catch more than others just because they belong to POs, and also that we have to pay corporations with no interest in fishing just for the right to catch cod.

“All the fish should belong to us, the fishermen, but they don't.”

Mr Robinson met with Mr Shaw in July to discuss the problems faced by Lowestoft fishermen, but said there was no end to the stalemate.

A Defra spokesman said: "We know that some fishermen are having a tough time right now, and fisheries minister Jonathan Shaw has promised to work hard to try to find solutions to their problems. Catch limits will be kept under review.”

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